Function found for mysterious heart disease gene

A new study from researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI), published today in Cell Reports, sheds light on a mysterious gene that likely influences cardiovascular health. After five years, UOHI researchers now know how one genetic variant works and suspect that it contributes to the development of heart disease through processes that promote chronic inflammation and cell division.Researchers at the Ruddy Canadian Cardiovascular Genetics Centre had initially identified a variant in a gene called SPG7 as a potential contributor to coronary artery disease several years ago, but its role in multiple health processes made it difficult to tease out how it affects heart disease.The gene holds instructions for producing a protein called SPG7. This protein resides in mitochondria — the small power plants of cells that produce the energy cells need to function. SPG7’s role is to help break down and recycle other damaged proteins within the mitochondria.Normally, SPG7 requires a partner protein to activate itself and start this breakdown process. But, in people who carry the genetic variant in question, SPG7 can activate itself in certain circumstances, leading to increased production of free radicals and more rapid cell division. These factors contribute to inflammation and atherosclerosis.”We think this variant would definitely heighten the state of inflammation, and we know that inflammation affects diabetes and heart disease,” said Dr. Stewart, Principal Investigator in the Ruddy Canadian Cardiovascular Genetics Centre and senior author of the study. “Interestingly, the variant also makes people more resistant to the toxic side effects of some chemotherapy drugs.”From an evolutionary perspective, this resistance could help such a genetic variant gain a stable place in the human genome. Between 13 and 15 per cent of people of European descent possess this variant.”The idea of mitochondria contributing to inflammation isn’t new,” concluded Dr. Stewart. …

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Northern and southern hemisphere climates follow the beat of different drummers

Over the last 1000 years, temperature differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were larger than previously thought. Using new data from the Southern Hemisphere, researchers have shown that climate model simulations overestimate the links between the climate variations across Earth with implications for regional predictions.These findings are demonstrated in a new international study coordinated by Raphael Neukom from the Oeschger Centre of the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL and are published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.The Southern Hemisphere is a challenging place for climate scientists. Its vast oceans, Antarctic ice, and deserts make it particularly difficult to collect information about present climate and, even more so, about past climate. However, multi-centennial reconstructions of past climate from so-called proxy archives such as tree-rings, lake sediments, corals, and ice-cores are required to understand the mechanisms of the climate system. Until now, these long-term estimates were almost entirely based on data from the Northern Hemisphere.Over the past few years, an international research team has made a coordinated effort to develop and analyse new records that provide clues about climate variation across the Southern Hemisphere. Climate scientists from Australia, Antarctic-experts, as well as data specialists and climate modellers from South and North America and Europe participated in the project. They compiled climate data from over 300 different locations and applied a range of methods to estimate Southern Hemisphere temperatures over the past 1000 years. In 99.7 percent of the results, the warmest decade of the millennium occurs after 1970.Surprisingly, only twice over the entire last millennium have both hemispheres simultaneously shown extreme temperatures. One of these occasions was a global cold period in the 17th century; the other one was the current warming phase, with uninterrupted global warm extremes since the 1970s. “The ‘Medieval Warm Period’, as identified in some European chronicles, was a regional phenomenon,” says Raphael Neukom. …

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US, European cholesterol guidelines differ in statin use recommendations

Application of U.S. and European cholesterol guidelines to a European population found that proportions of individuals eligible for statins differed substantially, with one U.S. guideline recommending statins for nearly all men and two-thirds of women, proportions exceeding those of the other guidelines, according to a JAMA study released online to coincide with the 2014 American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions.The common approach in cardiovascular disease (CVD) primary prevention is to identify individuals at high enough risk to justify more intensive lifestyle interventions, treatment with medications, or both. The CVD prevention guidelines developed by the National Cholesterol Education Program expert panel, the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) task force, and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) are the major guidelines influencing clinical practice. “Varying approaches to CVD risk estimation and application of different criteria for therapeutic recommendations would translate into substantial differences in proportions of individuals qualifying for treatment at a population level,” the authors write.Maryam Kavousi, M.D., Ph.D., of Erasmus MC-University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues conducted a study to determine population-wide implications of the ACC/AHA, the Adult Treatment Panel III (ATP-III), and the ESC guidelines, using 4,854 Dutch participants from the Rotterdam Study (a population-based study of patients 55 years of age or older). The researchers calculated 10-year risks for “hard” (major) atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) events (including fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease [CHD] and stroke) (ACC/AHA); hard CHD events (fatal and nonfatal heart attack, CHD mortality) (ATP-III); and atherosclerotic CVD mortality (ESC). The proportions of individuals for whom statins would be recommended were calculated per guideline.The average age of the participants was 65.5 years; 54.5 percent were women. The researchers found that application of the ACC/AHA guideline recommended treatment for 96.4 percent of men and 65.8 percent of women; for the ATP-III guideline, the portion was 52 percent of men and 35.5 percent of women; and for the ESC guideline, 66.1 percent of men and 39.1 percent of women were included in the category where treatment was recommended.With the ACC/AHA approach, average predicted risk vs observed major ASCVD events was 21.5 percent vs 12.7 percent for men and 11.6 percent vs 7.9 percent for women. Similar overestimation occurred with the ATP-III and ESC model.”Improving risk predictions and setting appropriate population-wide thresholds are necessary to facilitate better clinical decision making,” the authors conclude.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The JAMA Network Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Laparoscopic Cytoreductive Surgery Followed by HIPEC Offers Patients with Peritoneal Mesothelioma Shorter Recovery Time with Fewer Complications

The standard treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma patients eligible for surgery is cytoreductive surgery (CRS) followed immediately by heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).Traditional surgery involves a large incision made in the abdomen in order to remove as much cancer as possible.Astudypublished in the European Journal of Surgical Oncology shows that patients suffering from peritoneal surface malignancy from mesothelioma and other cancers may benefit from less invasive laparoscopic surgical procedures. Laparoscopic procedures require a much smaller incision than traditional surgery and utilize a fiber optic camera so that surgeons may perform the procedure viewing a monitor.Researchers at the Hospices Civils de Lyon in France compared two groups of patients who underwent CRS followed by HIPEC. Patients in the first group underwent the laparoscopic CRS procedure and experienced …

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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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One out of two parents do not see their child’s weight problem

One out of two parents of children with overweight feel that their child’s weight is normal. Four out of ten parents of children with overweight or obesity are even worried that their child will get too thin. These are the findings of a European study of parents of more than 16,000 children, including 1,800 children from Sweden.The research is a part of a European study that comprises a total of 16,220 children in the ages 2-9, of which 1,800 live in Partille, Alingss and Mlndal in Sweden.Estimates of the weight statusIn Susann Regber’s dissertation, the parents were asked to estimate their child’s weight status and health, and to describe their own worries about their child’s becoming overweight or underweight. The parents’ perceptions were then compared with the children’s actual measurements.Worries about underweightAmong other findings, the studies show that:• Around 40 per cent of parents of children with both overweight and obesity are worried that the child will become underweight. Among parents of children who are already underweight, the proportion that are worried about it is 33 per cent.• One out of two parents of a child with overweight in Central and Northern Europe perceived their child’s weight as normal. In Southern Europe, the same figure was 75 per cent.Major significance”How parents perceive their child’s weight status is of major significance to being able to promote a healthy weight development. Our studies show that the parents’ insight into obesity in their children indeed grows in pace with the child’s age and higher BMI in the child, but also that a weight development at preschool age can go from overweight to obesity without necessary lifestyle changes being made,” says Susann Regber, who is presenting the findings in her dissertation:”Many parents simply do not see the increase in growth, and are dependent on objective information from, for instance, child welfare centers and school health care to act.” A simple measure may be to introduce a routine in pediatric and school health care to always show the child’s BMI curve to the parents.Many obstacles to healthy habitsAs a part of the studies, the researchers arranged group discussions with children and parents. In the talks, the parents emphasized that there are many obstacles to being able to maintain healthy eating habits: long working days, financial limitations, and the constant availability and marketing of unhealthy food and drinks.Another problem that was brought up was that other family members, like spouses and grandparents, broke the rules set up in the home.”But the parents also emphasized examples that promoted good eating habits, like children being served good, healthy food at day-care and in school,” says Susann Regber.The findings in this dissertation are based on the European research project IDEFICS, where researchers from various parts of Europe are studying lifestyle, diet and obesity as well as their health effects on children between the ages of 2 and 10 years.The dissertation Barriers and Facilitators of Health Promotion and Obesity Prevention in Early Childhood: A Focus on Parents- Results from the IDEFICS Study was defended on February 28.Link to dissertation: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/34815Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Gothenburg. The original article was written by Krister Svahn. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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After the saffron spice DNA

Researchers at the UPM and the University of Tor Vegata of Roma have proposed a new technique that allows the detection of adulterated saffron spice.A collaborative research between Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (UPM) and the University of de Tor Vegata has studied the DNA of the saffron spice through the analysis of its genetic code. The use of this technique has clarified aspects of the genetic variability of this species, which has allowed the design of a system that can discriminate and certify the authenticity of saffron spice to avoid cases of adulteration.Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is sterile plant species of bulbous herb with purple colored flowers whose origin is still unknown. The dry stigmas of the Crocus sativus L. are commonly known as saffron, which is a cultivated plant with a gastronomical reputation that dates back from ancient times. In fact, it is only vegetatively propagated by bulbs due to its incapacity of producing fertile pollen and for this reason, seeds.The plant blooms just once a year and the harvest of stigmas are made by manual selection in a very short amount of time. For this reason, saffron spice is the most expensive spice in the world.This research has used a DNA barcode technique to define different species and saffron spice crop fields. For this reason, researchers have analyzed samples of various species of Crocus, both Italians and Spanish ones, including species from different origins of cultivated saffron spice. As a result of this study, researchers found some aspects of the phylogeny of this gender, particularly the genetic drift of Crocus sativus.Numerous morphological studies support the theory that saffron spice was originated from evolution or hybridization of other saffron species, especially C. thomasii, C. hadriaticus and C. …

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Europe may experience higher warming than global average

The majority of Europe will experience higher warming than the global average if surface temperatures rise to 2 C above pre-industrial levels, according to a new study published today.Under such a scenario, temperatures greater than the 2 C global average will be experienced in Northern and Eastern Europe in winter and Southern Europe in summer; however, North-Western Europe — specifically the UK — will experience a lower relative warming.The study, which has been published today, 7 March, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, also shows that in the summer, daily maximum temperatures could increase by 3-4 C over South-Eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula and rise well above 40 C in regions that already experience some of the highest temperatures in Europe, such as Spain, Portugal and France. Such higher temperatures will increase evaporation and drought.In the winter, the maximum daily temperatures could increase by more than 6 C across Scandinavia and Russia.Lead author of the research Robert Vautard, from Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (CEA/CNRS/UVSQ), said: “The 2 C warming target has mainly been decided among nations as a limit not to exceed in order to avoid possibly dangerous climate change. However, the consequences of such a warming, at the scale of a continent like Europe, have not yet been quantified.”We find that, even for such an ambitious target as 2 C, changes in European climate are significant and will lead to significant impacts.”The study also shows that there will be a robust increase in precipitation over Central and Northern Europe in the winter and Northern Europe in the summer, and that most of the continent will experience an increase in instances of extreme precipitation, increasing the flood risks which are already having significant economic consequences.Southern Europe is an exception, and will experience a general decline in mean precipitation.To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers used an ensemble of 15 regional climate models to simulate climate changes under an A1B scenario, which represents rapid economic growth and a balanced approach to energy sources.In addition to temperature and precipitation changes that may occur, the researchers also investigated atmospheric circulation and winds, but found no significant changes.”Even if the 2 C goal is achieved, Europe will experience impacts, and these are likely to exacerbate existing climate vulnerability. Further work on identifying key hotspots, potential impacts and advancing carefully planned adaptation is therefore needed,” the researchers write in their study.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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A new renewable energy source? Device captures energy from Earth’s infrared emissions to outer space

When the sun sets on a remote desert outpost and solar panels shut down, what energy source will provide power through the night? A battery, perhaps, or an old diesel generator? Perhaps something strange and new.Physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) envision a device that would harvest energy from Earth’s infrared emissions into outer space.Heated by the sun, our planet is warm compared to the frigid vacuum beyond. Thanks to recent technological advances, the researchers say, that heat imbalance could soon be transformed into direct-current (DC) power, taking advantage of a vast and untapped energy source.Their analysis of the thermodynamics, practical concerns, and technological requirements will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”It’s not at all obvious, at first, how you would generate DC power by emitting infrared light in free space toward the cold,” says principal investigator Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS. “To generate power by emitting, not by absorbing light, that’s weird. It makes sense physically once you think about it, but it’s highly counterintuitive. We’re talking about the use of physics at the nanoscale for a completely new application.”Challenging conventionCapasso is a world-renowned expert in semiconductor physics, photonics, and solid-state electronics. He co-invented the infrared quantum-cascade laser in 1994, pioneered the field of bandgap engineering, and demonstrated an elusive quantum electrodynamical phenomenon called the repulsive Casimir force — work for which he has received the SPIE Gold Medal, the European Physical Society Prize for Quantum Electronics and Optics, and the Jan Czochralski Award for lifetime achievement. His research team seems to specialize in rigorously questioning other physicists’ assumptions about optics and electronics.”The mid-IR has been, by and large, a neglected part of the spectrum,” says Capasso. …

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Importance of nutrients for coral reefs highlighted by scientists

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

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Large mammals were the architects in prehistoric ecosystems

Researchers from Denmark demonstrate in a study that the large grazers and browsers of the past created a mosaic of varied landscapes consisting of closed and semi-closed forests and parkland.The study is published March 3, 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Dung beetles recount the nature of the pastThe biologists behind the new research findings synthesized decades of studies on fossil beetles, focusing on beetles associated with the dung of large animals in the past or with woodlands and trees. Their findings reveal that dung beetles were much more frequent in the previous interglacial period (from 132,000 to 110,000 years ago) compared with the early Holocene (the present interglacial period, before agriculture, from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago).”One of the surprising results is that woodland beetles were much less dominant in the previous interglacial period than in the early Holocene, which shows that temperate ecosystems consisted not just of dense forest as often assumed, but rather a mosaic of forest and parkland,” says postdoctoral fellow Chris Sandom.”Large animals in high numbers were an integral part of nature in prehistoric times. The composition of the beetles in the fossil sites tells us that the proportion and number of the wild large animals declined after the appearance of modern man. As a result of this, the countryside developed into predominantly dense forest that was first cleared when humans began to use the land for agriculture,” explains Professor Jens-Christian Svenning.Bring back the large animals to EuropeIf people want to restore self-managing varied landscapes, they can draw on the knowledge provided by the new study about the composition of natural ecosystems in the past.”An important way to create more self-managing ecosystems with a high level of biodiversity is to make room for large herbivores in the European landscape — and possibly reintroduce animals such as wild cattle, bison and even elephants. They would create and maintain a varied vegetation in temperate ecosystems, and thereby ensure the basis for a high level of biodiversity,” says senior scientist Rasmus Ejrns.The study received financial support from the 15 June Foundation and a grant from the European Research Council. To a large extent, it supports the idea that the rewilding-based approach to nature management should be incorporated to a far greater degree in nature policy in Europe -especially in the case of national parks and other large natural areas.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Aarhus University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Coral fish biodiversity loss: Humankind could be responsible

Literal biodiversity reservoirs, coral reefs and associated ecosystems are in grave danger from natural and human-made disturbances. The latest World Resources Institute assessment is alarming with 75% of coral reefs reported as endangered worldwide, a figure that may reach 100% by 2050. The numbers are concerning, particularly as coral reefs provide sustenance and economic benefits for many developing countries and fish biodiversity on coral reefs partly determines the biomass available for human consumption.A Multi-Facetted BiodiversityWhile phylogenetic diversity in communities is acknowledged for its vital heritage value, illustrating, as it does, a “part” of the tree of life, ecosystem functional diversity has long been overlooked in impact studies. An ecosystem’s richness is also measured both in taxonomic biodiversity terms (number of different species) as well as by the number of lineages or functions performed by many ecosystem goods and services.*There have not as yet been any studies into the impact of human activity on coral fish community taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic taxonomic diversity loss.Functional and Phylogenetic Diversity Loss RevealedAfter sampling 1553 fish communities through underwater surveys in 17 Pacific countries, researchers assessed the taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity levels of a group of species fished along a human density gradient ranging from 1.3 to 1705 persons per sq. km of reef.The social and environmental data were collected under the PROCFish and CoFish projects co-ordinated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and funded by the European Union.The results showed a sharp drop in functional and phylogenetic diversity levels, particularly above 20 people per sq. km of reef, while species richness was barely affected along the gradient.When human population density reached 1700 persons per sq. km of reef, the impact on functional and phylogenetic diversity levels (-46 % and -36 %, respectively) was greater than on species richness (-12 %).A Tree of Life that Needs ProtectingThe research shows that species numbers are a poor indicator of anthropogenic pressure, while two other biodiversity components are far more heavily affected by human density. These components make up the tree of life, i.e. the diversity of biological traits and phylogenetic lineages that are essential for coral systems to function.The researchers emphasised how important it was to conserve all the components of biodiversity. They also recommended using trait and lineage diversity as reliable and sensitive indicators of damage to species communities.*Some reef fish species play key roles in ecosystem functions: regulating competition between algae and coral colonies; and creating areas that are conducive to recruiting coral larvae by bio-erosion, etc.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institut de Recherche pour le Dveloppement (IRD). …

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Early warning system for epidemics: Risk map correlates environmental, health data

The environment has an impact on our health. Preventing epidemics relies on activating the right counter-measures, and scientists are now trying to find out how better use of forecasting can help. The EU’s EO2HEAVEN project developed a risk map for correlating environmental and health data in order to identify where a disease may break out next. The concept will be on show at Booth E40 in Hall 9 of the CeBIT trade fair in Hannover.Cholera has been all but eradicated in Europe, but this bacterial, primarily waterborne disease still claims thousands of lives in Africa every year. Scientists are examining the effects various environmental factors have on cholera epidemics in Uganda. As part of this work, the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB in Karlsruhe developed a software architecture for early warning systems that compares environmental and health data and presents the results graphically. “This allowed us to visualize the complex relationships between these factors for the first time on risk maps, leading to a better understanding of the processes,” explains project coordinator Dr. Kym Watson.The scientists use sensors to measure environmental parameters such as rainfall, exposure to solar radiation and pH value, as well as temperature and concentration of nutrients in the water. Weather and climate forecasts are also factored into the analysis. At the same time, they use mobile applications to collect health data on cholera cases from hospitals and doctors, such as where patients have been and what their symptoms are. …

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Interactive map of human genetic history revealed

A global map detailing the genetic histories of 95 different populations across the world, showing likely genetic impacts of European colonialism, the Arab slave trade, the Mongol Empire and European traders near the Silk Road mixing with people in China, has been revealed for the first time.The interactive map, produced by researchers from Oxford University and UCL (University College London), details the histories of genetic mixing between each of the 95 populations across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America spanning the last four millennia.It can be accessed at: http://admixturemap.paintmychromosomes.com/The study, published this week in Science, simultaneously identifies, dates and characterises genetic mixing between populations. To do this, the researchers developed sophisticated statistical methods to analyse the DNA of 1490 individuals in 95 populations around the world. The work was chiefly funded by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society.’DNA really has the power to tell stories and uncover details of humanity’s past.’ said Dr Simon Myers of Oxford University’s Department of Statistics and Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, co-senior author of the study.’Because our approach uses only genetic data, it provides information independent from other sources. Many of our genetic observations match historical events, and we also see evidence of previously unrecorded genetic mixing. For example, the DNA of the Tu people in modern China suggests that in around 1200CE, Europeans similar to modern Greeks mixed with an otherwise Chinese-like population. Plausibly, the source of this European-like DNA might be merchants travelling the nearby Silk Road.’The powerful technique, christened ‘Globetrotter’, provides insight into past events such as the genetic legacy of the Mongol Empire. Historical records suggest that the Hazara people of Pakistan are partially descended from Mongol warriors, and this study found clear evidence of Mongol DNA entering the population during the period of the Mongol Empire. Six other populations, from as far west as Turkey, showed similar evidence of genetic mixing with Mongols around the same time.’What amazes me most is simply how well our technique works,’ said Dr Garrett Hellenthal of the UCL Genetics Institute, lead author of the study. ‘Although individual mutations carry only weak signals about where a person is from, by adding information across the whole genome we can reconstruct these mixing events. Sometimes individuals sampled from nearby regions can have surprisingly different sources of mixing.’For example, we identify distinct events happening at different times among groups sampled within Pakistan, with some inheriting DNA from sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps related to the Arab Slave Trade, others from East Asia, and yet another from ancient Europe. …

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Sochi games influenced by Lake Placid winter Olympics of 1932

Eight crashes that sent more than a dozen competitors to the hospital marred bobsled practice runs leading up to the 1932 winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, N.Y., but as dramatic as those incidents were, they also provide insight into more ordinary factors that continue to influence the Olympics, according to a Penn State researcher.”The crashes occurred on the Mt. Van Hoevenberg slide, which was specially built for the games at Lake Placid,” said Peter Hopsicker, associate professor of kinesiology. “How that facility came to be established provides an historic precedent that has shaped the Olympics since then, including Sochi games.”The winter Olympics were first organized in 1924, and the Lake Placid games were the first to be held in the United States. The upstate New York location was chosen largely in response to the efforts of Godfrey Dewey, who held investments in Lake Placid as a recreational area and hoped to use the Olympics as a springboard for the region’s development as an international winter sports resort.”The bob-run was the centerpiece — you can’t have a winter Olympics without it, it’s expensive but essential,” said Hopsicker, who describes the bob-run’s planning and construction in the spring issue of the Journal of Sport History. “Dewey lobbied heavily to have it located proximate to the tourist villages of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, yet the state’s environmental policies protected the public Adirondack wilderness.”Dewey ran headlong into a conservation group, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, which took legal steps to block his efforts to develop the bob-run on public land, triggering the first battle between developers of an Olympics host city and environmental stewards.The issue became wrapped in politics when New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt balked at spending public funds to build the bob-run no matter where it was located. Dewey lost the battle with the environmentalists and built a world-class bob-run on a privately owned site christened Mt. Van Hoevenberg, but he did persuade Roosevelt to allocate state funds for the games.The completed slide provided unique challenges for the athletes. “It had pronounced drops in the curves,” Hopsicker said, “something new to the sport.”While Dewey provided bobsleds for all international teams, the Germans brought their own sleds built for a more European snow-covered surface. The Germans’ unwillingness to use Dewey’s sleds that were built with the qualities of the Lake Placid slide in mind contributed significantly to the subsequent German crashes during practice runs. …

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Four unknown galaxy clusters containing thousands of galaxies discovered 10 billion light years from Earth

Four unknown galaxy clusters each potentially containing thousands of individual galaxies have been discovered some 10 billion light years from Earth.An international team of astronomers, led by Imperial College London, used a new way of combining data from the two European Space Agency satellites, Planck and Herschel, to identify more distant galaxy clusters than has previously been possible. The researchers believe up to 2000 further clusters could be identified using this technique, helping to build a more detailed timeline of how clusters are formed.Galaxy clusters are the most massive objects in the universe, containing hundreds to thousands of galaxies, bound together by gravity. While astronomers have identified many nearby clusters, they need to go further back in time to understand how these structures are formed. This means finding clusters at greater distances from Earth.The light from the most distant of the four new clusters identified by the team has taken over 10 billion years to reach us. This means the researchers are seeing what the cluster looked like when the universe was just three billion years old.Lead researcher Dr David Clements, from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, explains: “Although we’re able to see individual galaxies that go further back in time, up to now, the most distant clusters found by astronomers date back to when the universe was 4.5 billion years old. This equates to around nine billion light years away. Our new approach has already found a cluster in existence much earlier than that, and we believe it has the potential to go even further.”The clusters can be identified at such distances because they contain galaxies in which huge amounts of dust and gas are being formed into stars. This process emits light that can be picked up by the satellite surveys.Galaxies are divided into two types: elliptical galaxies that have many stars, but little dust and gas; and spiral galaxies like our own, the Milky Way, which contain lots of dust and gas. Most clusters in the universe today are dominated by giant elliptical galaxies in which the dust and gas has already been formed into stars.”What we believe we are seeing in these distant clusters are giant elliptical galaxies in the process of being formed,” says Dr Clements.Observations were recorded by the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) instrument as part of Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey (HerMES). Seb Oliver, Head of the HerMES survey said: “The fantastic thing about Herschel-SPIRE is that we are able to scan very large areas of the sky with sufficient sensitivity and image sharpness that we can find these rare and exotic things. …

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Thinking it through: Scientists seek to unlock mysteries of the brain

Understanding the human brain is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science. If we can rise to this challenge, we will gain profound insights into what makes us human, develop new treatments for brain diseases, and build revolutionary new computing technologies that will have far reaching effects, not only in neuroscience.Scientists at the European Human Brain Project — set to announce more than a dozen new research partnerships worth Eur 8.3 million in funding later this month — the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and the US BRAIN Initiative are developing new paradigms for understanding how the human brain works in health and disease. Today, their international and collaborative projects are defined, explored, and compared during “Inventing New Ways to Understand the Human Brain,” at the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.Brain Simulation, Big Data, and a New Computing ParadigmHenry Markram from the Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland, where the Human Brain Project is based, describes how the project will leverage available experimental data and basic principles of brain organization to reconstruct the detailed structure of the brain in computer models. The models will allow the HBP to run super-computer based simulations of the inner working of the brain.”Brain simulation allows measurements and manipulations impossible in the lab, opening the road to a new kind of in silico experimentation,” Markram says.The data deluge in neuroscience is resulting in a revolutionary amount of brain data with new initiatives planning to acquire even more. But searching, accessing, and analyzing this data remains a key challenge.Sean Hill, also of EPFL and a speaker at AAAS, leads The Neuroinformatics Platform of the Human Brain Project (HBP). In this scientific panel, he explains how the platform will provide tools to manage, navigate, and annotate spatially referenced brain atlases, which will form the basis for the HBP’s modeling effort — turning Big Data into deep knowledge.The Neuroinformatics Platform will bring together many different kinds of data. University of Edinburgh’s Seth Grant, a key member of the HBP, describes how he is deriving new methods to decode the molecular principles underlying the brain’s organization, such as how individual proteins assemble into larger complexes. As Grant explains in Chicago, this has important practical applications as many mutations in schizophrenia and autism converge on these so-called supercomplexes in the brain.As we understand more and more about the way the brain computes we can apply this knowledge to technology. Karlheinz Meier, of Heidelberg University in Germany and a speaker at AAAS, outlines how he is working to create entirely new computing systems as part of the HBP. These Neuromorphic Computing Systems will merge realistic brain models with new hardware for a completely new paradigm of computing — one that more closely resembles how the brain itself processes information.”The brain has the ability to efficiently perform computations that are impossible even for the most powerful computers while consuming only 30 Watts of power,” Meier says.Brain: Get Ready For Your Close-upAt AAAS, Christof Koch lays out another ambitious, 10-year plan from the Allen Institute for Brain Science: to understand the structure and function of the brain by mapping cell types from mice and humans with computer simulations and figuring out how the cells connect, and how they encode, relay, and process information. …

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Understanding basic biology of bipolar disorder

Scientists know there is a strong genetic component to bipolar disorder, but they have had an extremely difficult time identifying the genes that cause it. So, in an effort to better understand the illness’s genetic causes, researchers at UCLA tried a new approach.Instead of only using a standard clinical interview to determine whether individuals met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the researchers combined the results from brain imaging, cognitive testing, and an array of temperament and behavior measures. Using the new method, UCLA investigators — working with collaborators from UC San Francisco, Colombia’s University of Antioquia and the University of Costa Rica — identified about 50 brain and behavioral measures that are both under strong genetic control and associated with bipolar disorder. Their discoveries could be a major step toward identifying the specific genes that contribute to the illness.The results are published in the Feb. 12 edition of the Journal JAMA Psychiatry.A severe mental illness that affects about 1 to 2 percent of the population, bipolar disorder causes unusual shifts in mood and energy, and it interferes with the ability to carry out everyday tasks. Those with the disorder can experience tremendous highs and extreme lows — to the point of not wanting to get out of bed when they’re feeling down. The genetic causes of bipolar disorder are highly complex and likely involve many different genes, said Carrie Bearden, a senior author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.”The field of psychiatric genetics has long struggled to find an effective approach to begin dissecting the genetic basis of bipolar disorder,” Bearden said. “This is an innovative approach to identifying genetically influenced brain and behavioral measures that are more closely tied to the underlying biology of bipolar disorder than the clinical symptoms alone are.”The researchers assessed 738 adults, 181 of whom have severe bipolar disorder. They used high-resolution 3-D images of the brain, questionnaires evaluating temperament and personality traits of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder and their non-bipolar relatives, and an extensive battery of cognitive tests assessing long-term memory, attention, inhibitory control and other neurocognitive abilities.Approximately 50 of these measures showed strong evidence of being influenced by genetics. Particularly interesting was the discovery that the thickness of the gray matter in the brain’s temporal and prefrontal regions — the structures that are critical for language and for higher-order cognitive functions like self-control and problem-solving — were the most promising candidate traits for genetic mapping, based on both their strong genetic basis and association with the disease.”These findings are really just the first step in getting us a little closer to the roots of bipolar disorder,” Bearden said. …

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Seven new genetic regions linked to type 2 diabetes

Seven new genetic regions associated with type 2 diabetes have been identified in the largest study to date of the genetic basis of the disease.DNA data was brought together from more than 48,000 patients and 139,000 healthy controls from four different ethnic groups. The research was conducted by an international consortium of investigators from 20 countries on four continents, co-led by investigators from Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics.The majority of such ‘genome-wide association studies’ have been done in populations with European backgrounds. This research is notable for including DNA data from populations of Asian and Hispanic origin as well.The researchers believe that, as more genetic data increasingly become available from populations of South Asian ancestry and, particularly, African descent, it will be possible to map genes implicated in type 2 diabetes ever more closely.’One of the striking features of these data is how much of the genetic variation that influences diabetes is shared between major ethnic groups,’ says Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Professor Mark McCarthy from the University of Oxford. ‘This has allowed us to combine data from more than 50 studies from across the globe to discover new genetic regions affecting risk of diabetes.’He adds: ‘The overlap in signals between populations of European, Asian and Hispanic origin argues that the risk regions we have found to date do not explain the clear differences in the patterns of diabetes between those groups.’Among the regions identified by the international research team are two, near the genes ARL15 and RREB1, that also show strong links to elevated levels of insulin and glucose in the body — two key characteristics of type 2 diabetes. This finding provides insights into the ways basic biochemical processes are involved in the risk of type 2 diabetes, the scientists say.The genome-wide association study looked at more than 3 million DNA variants to identify those that have a measurable impact on risk of type 2 diabetes. By combining DNA data from many tens of thousands of individuals, the consortium was able to detect, for the first time, regions where the effects on diabetes susceptibility are rather subtle.’Although the genetic effects may be small, each signal tells us something new about the biology of the disease,’ says first author Dr Anubha Mahajan of Oxford University. ‘These findings may lead us to new ways of thinking about the disease, with the aim ultimately of developing novel therapies to treat and prevent diabetes. There’s every reason to expect that drugs acting on these biological processes would have a far larger impact on an individual’s diabetes than the genetic effects we have discovered.’Principal investigator Dr Andrew Morris, also of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, says: ‘The findings of our study should also be relevant to other common human diseases. By combining genetic data from different ethnic groups, we would expect also to be able identify new DNA variants influencing risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer, for example, which are shared across ethnic groups. It has the potential to have a major impact on global public health.’Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. …

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Amputee feels in real-time with bionic hand

Nine years after an accident caused the loss of his left hand, Dennis Aabo Srensen from Denmark became the first amputee in the world to feel — in real-time — with a sensory-enhanced prosthetic hand that was surgically wired to nerves in his upper arm. Silvestro Micera and his team at EPFL (Switzerland) and SSSA (Italy) developed the revolutionary sensory feedback that allowed Srensen to feel again while handling objects. A prototype of this bionic technology was tested in February 2013 during a clinical trial in Rome under the supervision of Paolo Maria Rossini at Gemelli Hospital (Italy).The study is published in the February 5, 2014 edition of Science Translational Medicine, and represents a collaboration called Lifehand 2 between several European universities and hospitals.”The sensory feedback was incredible,” reports the 36 year-old amputee from Denmark. “I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years.” In a laboratory setting wearing a blindfold and earplugs, Srensen was able to detect how strongly he was grasping, as well as the shape and consistency of different objects he picked up with his prosthetic. “When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square.”From Electrical Signal to Nerve ImpulseMicera and his team enhanced the artificial hand with sensors that detect information about touch. This was done by measuring the tension in artificial tendons that control finger movement and turning this measurement into an electrical current. But this electrical signal is too coarse to be understood by the nervous system. Using computer algorithms, the scientists transformed the electrical signal into an impulse that sensory nerves can interpret. The sense of touch was achieved by sending the digitally refined signal through wires into four electrodes that were surgically implanted into what remains of Srensen’s upper arm nerves.”This is the first time in neuroprosthetics that sensory feedback has been restored and used by an amputee in real-time to control an artificial limb,” says Micera.”We were worried about reduced sensitivity in Dennis’ nerves since they hadn’t been used in over nine years,” says Stanisa Raspopovic, first author and scientist at EPFL and SSSA. These concerns faded away as the scientists successfully reactivated Srensen’s sense of touch.Connecting Electrodes to NervesOn January 26, 2013, Srensen underwent surgery in Rome at Gemelli Hospital. …

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