Steam energy from the sun: New spongelike structure converts solar energy into steam

A new material structure developed at MIT generates steam by soaking up the sun. The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light, the more steam is generated.The new material is able to convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam — a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. What’s more, the setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. This would mean that, if scaled up, the setup would likely not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.Hadi Ghasemi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the spongelike structure can be made from relatively inexpensive materials — a particular advantage for a variety of compact, steam-powered applications.”Steam is important for desalination, hygiene systems, and sterilization,” says Ghasemi, who led the development of the structure. “Especially in remote areas where the sun is the only source of energy, if you can generate steam with solar energy, it would be very useful.”Ghasemi and mechanical engineering department head Gang Chen, along with five others at MIT, report on the details of the new steam-generating structure in the journal Nature Communications.Cutting the optical concentrationToday, solar-powered steam generation involves vast fields of mirrors or lenses that concentrate incoming sunlight, heating large volumes of liquid to high enough temperatures to produce steam. However, these complex systems can experience significant heat loss, leading to inefficient steam generation.Recently, scientists have explored ways to improve the efficiency of solar-thermal harvesting by developing new solar receivers and by working with nanofluids. The latter approach involves mixing water with nanoparticles that heat up quickly when exposed to sunlight, vaporizing the surrounding water molecules as steam. But initiating this reaction requires very intense solar energy — about 1,000 times that of an average sunny day.By contrast, the MIT approach generates steam at a solar intensity about 10 times that of a sunny day — the lowest optical concentration reported thus far. …

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Anti-inflammatory drug can prevent neuron loss in Parkinson’s model

An experimental anti-inflammatory drug can protect vulnerable neurons and reduce motor deficits in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have shown.The results were published Thursday, July 24 in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.The findings demonstrate that the drug, called XPro1595, can reach the brain at sufficient levels and have beneficial effects when administered by subcutaneous injection, like an insulin shot. Previous studies of XPro1595 in animals tested more invasive modes of delivery, such as direct injection into the brain.”This is an important step forward for anti-inflammatory therapies for Parkinson’s disease,” says Malu Tansey, PhD, associate professor of physiology at Emory University School of Medicine. “Our results provide a compelling rationale for moving toward a clinical trial in early Parkinson’s disease patients.”The new research on subcutaneous administration of XPro1595 was funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF). XPro1595 is licensed by FPRT Bio, and is seeking funding for a clinical trial to test its efficacy in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.”We are proud to have supported this work and glad to see positive pre-clinical results,” said Marco Baptista, PhD, MJFF associate director of research programs. “A therapy that could slow Parkinson’s progression would be a game changer for the millions living with this disease, and this study is a step in that direction.”In addition, Tansey and Yoland Smith, PhD, from Yerkes National Primate Research Center, were awarded a grant this week from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation to test XPro1595 in a non-human primate model of Parkinson’s.Evidence has been piling up that inflammation is an important mechanism driving the progression of Parkinson’s disease. XPro1595 targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a critical inflammatory signaling molecule, and is specific to the soluble form of TNF. This specificity would avoid compromising immunity to infections, a known side effect of existing anti-TNF drugs used to treat disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.”Inflammation is probably not the initiating event in Parkinson’s disease, but it is important for the neurodegeneration that follows,” Tansey says. “That’s why we believe that an anti-inflammatory agent, such as one that counteracts soluble TNF, could substantially slow the progression of the disease.”Postdoctoral fellow Christopher Barnum, PhD and colleagues used a model of Parkinson’s disease in rats in which the neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) is injected into only one side of the brain. This reproduces some aspects of Parkinson’s disease: neurons that produce dopamine in the injected side of the brain die, leading to impaired movement on the opposite side of the body.When XPro1595 is given to the animals 3 days after 6-OHDA injection, just 15 percent of the dopamine-producing neurons were lost five weeks later. …

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Calcification in changing oceans

What do mollusks, starfish, and corals have in common? Aside from their shared marine habitat, they are all calcifiers — organisms that use calcium from their environment to create hard carbonate skeletons and shells for stability and protection.The June issue of the Biological Bulletin, published by the Marine Biological Laboratory, addresses the challenges faced by these species as ocean composition changes worldwide.As atmospheric carbon dioxide rises, the world’s oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic. This impact of global climate change threatens the survival of calcifying species because of the reduced saturation of the carbonate minerals required for calcification.The ability to calcify arose independently in many species during the Cambrian era, when calcium levels in seawater increased. This use of calcium carbonate promoted biodiversity, including the vast array of calcifiers seen today.”Today, modern calcifiers face a new and rapidly escalating crisis caused by warming and acidification of the oceans with a reduction in availability of carbonate minerals, a change driven by the increase in atmospheric CO2 due to anthropogenic emissions and industrialization. The CO2 itself can also directly cause metabolic stress,” write the issue’s co-editors, Maria Byrne of the University of Sydney; and Gretchen Hofmann of the University of California-Santa Barbara.Contributors to the journal address this timely issue across many taxa and from a variety of perspectives, from genomic to ecosystem-wide.Janice Lough and Neal Cantin of the Australian Institute of Marine Science review historical data on coral reefs to look at potential environmental stressors, while Philippe Dubois (Universit Libre de Bruxelles) discusses sea urchin skeletons.Other researchers address lesser-known organisms that are nevertheless critical to marine ecosystems. Abigail Smith of the University of Otago examines how bryozoans, a group of aquatic invertebrate filter-feeders, increase biodiversity by creating niche habitats, and what features make them particularly sensitive to calcium fluctuations.Evans and Watson-Wynn (California State University-East Bay) take a molecular approach in a meta-analysis showing that ocean acidification is effecting genetic changes in sea urchin larvae. Several papers take a broader population-based view by studying the effect of ocean acidification on predator-prey interactions in mollusks (Kroeker and colleagues of the University of California-Davis) and oysters (Wright and colleagues of the University of Western Sydney).”The contributors have identified key knowledge gaps in the fast evolving field of marine global change biology and have provided many important insights,” the co-editors write.By sharing research on this topic from researchers around the world, the Biological Bulletin is raising awareness of some of the greatest threats to the oceans today and emphasizing the global nature of the problem.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The Marine Biological Laboratory. The original article was written by Gina Hebert. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Primary texting bans associated with lower traffic fatalities, study finds

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health examined the impact texting-while-driving laws have had on roadway crash-related fatalities, and the findings are published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.Of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 years, 31 percent reported they had read or sent text or email messages while driving at least once in the 30 days prior, according to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That same year, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, and an additional 387,000 people were injured.While completing her doctoral work in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, Alva O. Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., conducted a longitudinal panel study to examine within-state changes in roadway fatalities after the enactment of state texting-while-driving bans using roadway fatality data captured in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 2000 and 2010.”Very little is known about whether laws banning texting while driving have actually improved roadway safety,” Ferdinand said. “Further, given the considerable variation in the types of laws that states have passed and whom they ban from what, it was necessary to determine which types of laws are most beneficial in improving roadway safety.”Some states have banned all drivers from texting while driving, while others have banned only young drivers from this activity, Ferdinand says. Additionally, some states’ texting bans entail secondary enforcement, meaning an officer must have another reason to stop a vehicle, like speeding or running a red light, before citing a driver for texting while driving. Other states’ texting bans entail primary enforcement, meaning an officer does not have to have another reason for stopping a vehicle.”Our results indicated that primary texting bans were significantly associated with a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups, which equates to an average of 19 deaths prevented per year in states with such bans,” Ferdinand said. “Primarily enforced texting laws that banned only young drivers from texting were the most effective at reducing deaths among the 15- to 21-year-old cohort, with an associated 11 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among this age group in states with such bans.”States with secondarily enforced restrictions did not see any significant reductions in traffic fatalities.”We were a little surprised to see that primarily enforced texting bans were not associated with significant reductions in fatalities among those ages 21 to 64, who are not considered to be young drivers,” Ferdinand said. “However, states with bans prohibiting the use of cellphones without hands-free technology altogether on all drivers saw significant reductions in fatalities among this particular age group. Thus, although texting-while-driving bans were most effective for reducing traffic-related fatalities among young individuals, handheld bans appear to be most effective for adults.”Ferdinand says these results could aid policymakers interested in improving roadway safety in that they indicate the types of laws that are most effective in reducing deaths among various age groups, as well as those in states with secondarily enforced texting bans advocating for stricter, primarily enforced texting bans.Ferdinand’s mentor, Nir Menachemi, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, says it is a key responsibility of health policy researchers to generate high-quality evidence on the health impact of societal policies and laws.”Clearly, distracted driving is a growing problem affecting everyone on the roadways,” Menachemi said. “It is my hope that policymakers act upon our findings so that motor-vehicle deaths can be prevented.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alabama at Birmingham. …

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Olfactory receptors in the skin: Sandalwood scent facilitates wound healing, skin regeneration

Skin cells possess an olfactory receptor for sandalwood scent, as researchers at the Ruhr-Universitt Bochum have discovered. Their data indicate that the cell proliferation increases and wound healing improves if those receptors are activated. This mechanism constitutes a possible starting point for new drugs and cosmetics. The team headed by Dr Daniela Busse and Prof Dr Dr Dr med habil Hanns Hatt from the Department for Cellphysiology published their report in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.The nose is not the only place where olfactory receptors occurHumans have approximately 350 different types of olfactory receptors in the nose. The function of those receptors has also been shown to exist in, for example spermatozoa, the prostate, the intestine and the kidneys. The team from Bochum has now discovered them in keratinocytes — cells that form the outermost layer of the skin.Experiments with cultures of human skin cellsThe RUB researchers studied the olfactory receptor that occurs in the skin, namely OR2AT4, and discovered that it is activated by a synthetic sandalwood scent, so-called Sandalore. Sandalwood aroma is frequently used in incense sticks and is a popular component in perfumes. The activated OR2AT4 receptor triggers a calcium-dependent signal pathway. That pathway ensures an increased proliferation and a quicker migration of skin cells — processes which typically facilitate wound healing. In collaboration with the Dermatology Department at the University of Mnster, the cell physiologists from Bochum demonstrated that effect in skin cell cultures and skin explants.Additional olfactory receptors in skin detectedIn addition to OR2AT4, the RUB scientists have also found a variety of other olfactory receptors in the skin, the function of which they are planning to characterise more precisely. …

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Bothered by hot flashes? Acupuncture might be the answer, analysis suggests

In the 2,500+ years that have passed since acupuncture was first used by the ancient Chinese, it has been used to treat a number of physical, mental and emotional conditions including nausea and vomiting, stroke rehabilitation, headaches, menstrual cramps, asthma, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, to name just a few. Now, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials which is being published this month in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), indicates that acupuncture can affect the severity and frequency of hot flashes for women in natural menopause.An extensive search of previous studies evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture uncovered 104 relevant students, of which 12 studies with 869 participants met the specified inclusion criteria to be included in this current study. While the studies provided inconsistent findings on the effects of acupuncture on other menopause-related symptoms such as sleep problems, mood disturbances and sexual problems, they did conclude that acupuncture positively impacted both the frequency and severity of hot flashes.Women experiencing natural menopause and aged between 40 and 60 years were included in the analysis, which evaluated the effects of various forms of acupuncture, including traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture (TCMA), acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture and ear acupuncture.Interestingly, neither the effect on hot flash frequency or severity appeared to be linked to the number of treatment doses, number of sessions or duration of treatment. However, the findings showed that sham acupuncture could induce a treatment effect comparable with that of true acupuncture for the reduction of hot flash frequency. The effects on hot flashes were shown to be maintained for as long as three months.Although the study stopped short of explaining the exact mechanism underlying the effects of acupuncture on hot flashes, a theory was proposed to suggest that acupuncture caused a reduction in the concentration of ╬▓-endorphin in the hypothalamus, resulting from low concentrations of estrogen. These lower levels could trigger the release of CGRP, which affects thermoregulation.”More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes,” says NAMS executive director Margery Gass, MD. “The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non- pharmacologic therapies.”A recent review indicated that approximately half of women experiencing menopause-associated symptoms use complementary and alternative medicine therapy, instead of pharmacologic therapies, for managing their menopausal symptoms.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Soy-dairy protein blend increases muscle mass, study shows

A new study published online in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows additional benefits of consuming a blend of soy and dairy proteins after resistance exercise for building muscle mass. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch found that using a protein blend of soy, casein and whey post-workout prolongs the delivery of select amino acids to the muscle for an hour longer than using whey alone. It also shows a prolonged increase in amino acid net balance across the leg muscle during early post-exercise recovery, suggesting prolonged muscle building.The study was conducted by researchers from UTMB in collaboration with DuPont Nutrition and Health. “This study sheds new light on how unique combinations of proteins, as opposed to single protein sources, are important for muscle recovery following exercise and help extend amino acid availability, further promoting muscle growth,” said Blake B. Rasmussen, chairman of UTMB’s Department of Nutrition and Metabolism and lead researcher of the study.This new research, using state-of-the-art methodology, builds on an earlier publication reporting that a soy-dairy blend extends muscle protein synthesis when compared to whey alone, as only the blended protein kept synthesis rates elevated three to five hours after exercise. Together, these studies indicate that the use of soy-dairy blends can be an effective strategy for active individuals seeking products to support muscle health.”Because of the increased demand for high-quality protein, this study provides critical insight for the food industry as a whole, and the sports nutrition market in particular,” said Greg Paul, global marketing director for DuPont Nutrition and Health. “With more and more consumers recognizing the importance of protein for their overall health and well-being, the results of this study have particular relevance to a large segment of the population, from the serious sports and fitness enthusiast to the mainstream consumer.”The double-blind, randomized clinical trial included 16 healthy subjects, ages 19 to 30, to assess if consumption of a blend of proteins with different digestion rates would prolong amino acid availability and lead to increases in muscle protein synthesis after exercise. The protein beverages provided to study subjects consisted of a soy-dairy blend (25 percent isolated DuPont Danisco SUPRO soy protein, 50 percent caseinate, 25 percent whey protein isolate) or a single protein source (whey protein isolate). Muscle biopsies were taken at baseline and up to five hours after resistance exercise. The protein sources were ingested one hour after exercise in both groups.The study demonstrates that consuming a soy-dairy blend leads to a steady rise in amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. …

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Almost half of homeless men had traumatic brain injury in their lifetime

Almost half of all homeless men who took part in a study by St. Michael’s Hospital had suffered at least one traumatic brain injury in their life and 87 per cent of those injuries occurred before the men lost their homes.While assaults were a major cause of those traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, (60 per cent) many were caused by potentially non-violent mechanisms such as sports and recreation (44 per cent) and motor vehicle collisions and falls (42 per cent).The study, led by Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, a clinical researcher in the hospital’s Neuroscience Research Program, was published today in the journal CMAJ Open.Dr. Topolovec-Vranic said it’s important for health care providers and others who work with homeless people to be aware of any history of TBI because of the links between such injuries and mental health issues, substance abuse, seizures and general poorer physical health.The fact that so many homeless men suffered a TBI before losing their home suggests such injuries could be a risk factor for becoming homeless, she said. That makes it even more important to monitor young people who suffer TBIs such as concussions for health and behavioural changes, she said.Dr. Topolovec-Vranic looked at data on 111 homeless men aged 27 to 81 years old who were recruited from a downtown Toronto men’s shelter. She found that 45 per cent of these men had experienced a traumatic brain injury, and of these, 70 per cent were injured during childhood or teenage years and 87 per cent experienced an injury before becoming homeless.In men under age 40, falls from drug/alcohol blackouts were the most common cause of traumatic brain injury while assault was the most common in men over 40 years old.Recognition that a TBI sustained in childhood or early teenage years could predispose someone to homelessness may challenge some assumptions that homelessness is a conscious choice made by these individuals, or just the result of their addictions or mental illness, said Dr. Topolovec-Vranic.This study received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.Separately, a recent study by Dr. Stephen Hwang of the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, found the number of people who are homeless or vulnerably housed and who have also suffered a TBI may be as high as 61 per cent — seven times higher than the general population.Dr. Hwang’s study, published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, is one of the largest studies to date investigating TBI in homeless populations. …

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Neurotics don’t just avoid action: They dislike it, study finds

That person we all seem to know who we say is neurotic and unable to take action? Turns out he or she isn’t unable to act but simply doesn’t want to.A study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries has uncovered new details about why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with life. Turns out that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don’t like it as much as non-neurotics. Therefore persuasive communications and other interventions may be useful if they simply alter neurotics’ attitudes toward inaction.These findings come the study “Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries.” It is published in the Journal of Personality and was written by Molly E. Ireland, Texas Tech University; Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hong Li, Battelle Center for Analytics and Public Health; and Dolores Albarracn -the principal investigator of the study– from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.”You’re so neurotic!” It’s a phrase that’s tossed about casually, but what exactly is neuroticism? It is a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect — including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness — that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.The researchers sought to determine whether and under what conditions neuroticism is associated with favorable or unfavorable representations of action and inaction. They investigated whether depression and anxiety would decrease proactive behavior among neurotic individuals, and whether a person’s collectivistic tendencies — considering the social consequences of one’s behavior before acting — would moderate the negative associations between neuroticism and action/inaction. The study found neurotics look at action less favorably and inaction more favorably than emotionally stable people do.”People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals’ less positive attitudes toward action. …

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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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Food quality will suffer with rising carbon dioxide, field study shows

For the first time, a field test has demonstrated that elevated levels of carbon dioxide inhibit plants’ assimilation of nitrate into proteins, indicating that the nutritional quality of food crops is at risk as climate change intensifies.Findings from this wheat field-test study, led by a UC Davis plant scientist, will be reported online April 6 in the journal Nature Climate Change.”Food quality is declining under the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing,” said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.”Several explanations for this decline have been put forward, but this is the first study to demonstrate that elevated carbon dioxide inhibits the conversion of nitrate into protein in a field-grown crop,” he said.The assimilation, or processing, of nitrogen plays a key role in the plant’s growth and productivity. In food crops, it is especially important because plants use nitrogen to produce the proteins that are vital for human nutrition. Wheat, in particular, provides nearly one-fourth of all protein in the global human diet.Many previous laboratory studies had demonstrated that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide inhibited nitrate assimilation in the leaves of grain and non-legume plants; however there had been no verification of this relationship in field-grown plants.Wheat field studyTo observe the response of wheat to different levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the researchers examined samples of wheat that had been grown in 1996 and 1997 in the Maricopa Agricultural Center near Phoenix, Ariz.At that time, carbon dioxide-enriched air was released in the fields, creating an elevated level of atmospheric carbon at the test plots, similar to what is now expected to be present in the next few decades. Control plantings of wheat were also grown in the ambient, untreated level of carbon dioxide.Leaf material harvested from the various wheat tests plots was immediately placed on ice, and then was oven dried and stored in vacuum-sealed containers to minimize changes over time in various nitrogen compounds.A fast-forward through more than a decade found Bloom and the current research team able to conduct chemical analyses that were not available at the time the experimental wheat plants were harvested.In the recent study, the researchers documented that three different measures of nitrate assimilation affirmed that the elevated level of atmospheric carbon dioxide had inhibited nitrate assimilation into protein in the field-grown wheat.”These field results are consistent with findings from previous laboratory studies, which showed that there are several physiological mechanisms responsible for carbon dioxide’s inhibition of nitrate assimilation in leaves,” Bloom said.3 percent protein decline expectedBloom noted that other studies also have shown that protein concentrations in the grain of wheat, rice and barley — as well as in potato tubers — decline, on average, by approximately 8 percent under elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”When this decline is factored into the respective portion of dietary protein that humans derive from these various crops, it becomes clear that the overall amount of protein available for human consumption may drop by about 3 percent as atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the levels anticipated to occur during the next few decades,” Bloom said.While heavy nitrogen fertilization could partially compensate for this decline in food quality, it would also have negative consequences including higher costs, more nitrate leaching into groundwater and increased emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, he said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Unplanned pregnancy remains high among young Australian women

Despite high rates of contraceptive use, unwanted pregnancies resulting in terminations remain high among young women.In an article in the April issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Danielle Mazza from Monash University, and colleagues, examine the paradox of high rates of contraceptive use, over the counter availability of emergency contraception and unplanned pregnancy.”The emergency contraceptive pill has been available to women for over-the-counter purchase since 2004,” Professor Mazza said.”Together with high rates of contraceptive use, this should result in lower rates of unplanned pregnancies for Australian women, but it has not.”Although women have a high level of awareness of the emergency contraceptive pill, their knowledge about how and when to use it, and where to obtain it, remains inadequate.”Further research is needed to better understand the role of GPs in helping women to understand their contraceptive options and reduce unplanned pregnancy.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Genetic cause of heart valve defects revealed

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

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Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death by 42 percent

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42% compared to eating less than one portion, reports a new UCL study.Researchers used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating seven or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.This is the first study to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population, the first to quantify health benefits per-portion, and the first to identify the types of fruit and vegetable with the most benefit.Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions, 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more. These figures are adjusted for sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake, and exclude deaths within a year of the food survey.The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.”We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” says Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, lead author of the study. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”The findings lend support to the Australian government’s ‘Go for 2 + 5’ guidelines, which recommend eating two portions of fruit and five of vegetables. The UK Department of Health recommends ‘5 a day’, while ‘Fruit and Veggies — More Matters’ is the key message in the USA.”Our study shows that people following Australia’s ‘Go for 2 + 5’ advice will reap huge health benefits,” says Dr Oyebode. “However, people shouldn’t feel daunted by a big target like seven. …

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Relaxed blood pressure guidelines cut millions from needing medication

New guidelines that ease the recommended blood pressure could result in 5.8 million U.S. adults no longer needing hypertension medication, according to an analysis by Duke Medicine researchers.The findings are the first peer-reviewed analysis to quantify the impact of guidelines announced in February by the Eighth Joint National Committee. In a divisive move, the committee relaxed the blood pressure goal in adults 60 years and older to 150/90, instead of the previous goal of 140/90.Blood pressure goals were also eased for adults with diabetes and kidney disease.”Raising the target in older adults is controversial, and not all experts agree with this new recommendation,” said lead author Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, a cardiology fellow at Duke University School of Medicine. “In this study, we wanted to determine the number of adults affected by these changes.”Researchers at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, in collaboration with McGill University, published their results online March 29, 2014, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, to coincide with the American College of Cardiology meeting in Washington, D.C.Researchers used 2005-2010 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The database included more than 16,000 participants with blood pressure measurements.Based on the study sample, the researchers determined that the proportion of U.S. adults considered eligible for hypertension treatment would decrease from 40.6 percent under the old guidelines to 31.7 percent under the new recommendations.In addition, 13.5 million adults — most of them over the age of 60 — would no longer be classified in a danger zone of poorly controlled blood pressure, and instead would be considered adequately managed. This includes 5.8 million U.S. adults who would no longer need blood pressure pills if the guidelines were rigidly applied.”The new guidelines do not address whether these adults should still be considered as having hypertension,” Navar-Boggan said. “But they would no longer need medication to lower their blood pressure.”According to the study, one in four adults over the age of 60 is currently being treated for high blood pressure and meeting the stricter targets set by previous guidelines.”These adults would be eligible for less intensive blood pressure medication under the new guidelines, particularly if they were experiencing side effects,” Navar-Boggan said. “But many experts fear that increasing blood pressure levels in these adults could be harmful.””This study reinforces how many Americans with hypertension fall into the treatment ‘gray zone’ where we don’t know how aggressive to treat and where we urgently need to conduct more research” said Eric D. …

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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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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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Biological testing tool, ScanDrop, tests in fraction of time and cost of industry standard

Northeastern University professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Tania Konry, has developed a single instrument that can conduct a wide range of biological scans in a fraction of the time and cost of industry standard equipment. That’s because it uses considerably less material and ultra-sensitive detection methods to do the same thing.Currently, researchers face enormous time constraints and financial hurdles from having to run these analyses on a regular basis. Hundreds of dollars and 24 hours are what’s required to scan biological materials for important biomarkers that signal diseases such as diabetes or cancer. And suppose you wanted to monitor live cancer cells. For that you’d have to use an entirely different method. It takes just as long but requires a whole other set of expensive top-end instrumentation. Want to look at bacteria instead? Be prepared to wait a few days for it to grow before you can get a meaningful result.Konry’s creation, ScanDrop, is a portable instrument no bigger than a shoebox that has the capacity to detect a variety of biological specimen. For that reason it will benefit a wide range of users beyond the medical community, including environmental monitoring and basic scientific research.The instrument acts as a miniature science lab, of sorts. It contains a tiny chip, made of polymer or glass, that is connected to equally tiny tubes. …

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Canal between ears helps alligators pinpoint sound

By reptile standards, alligators are positively chatty. They are the most vocal of the non-avian reptiles and are known to be able to pinpoint the source of sounds with accuracy. But it wasn’t clear exactly how they did it because they lack external auditory structures.In a new study, an international team of biologists shows that the alligator’s ear is strongly directional because of large, air-filled channels connecting the two middle ears. This configuration is similar in birds, which have an interaural canal that increases directionality.”Mammals usually have large moveable ears, but alligators do not, so they have solved the problems of sound localization a little differently. This may also be the solution used by the alligator’s dinosaur relatives,” said Hilary Bierman, a biology lecturer at the University of Maryland.The study, which was led by Bierman and UMD Biology Professor Catherine Carr, was published online in the Journal of Experimental Biology on March 26, 2014. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Danish National Science Foundation and Carlsberg Foundation.The UMD biologists — along with researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Colorado Medical School and University of Southern Denmark — collected anatomical, biophysical and electrophysiological measurements of alligators to investigate the mechanisms alligators use to locate sounds.”Different vertebrate lineages have evolved external and/or internal anatomical adaptations to enhance these auditory cues, such as pinnae and interaural canals,” said Bierman.First, the team tested how sound travelled around an alligator’s head to investigate whether the animal somehow channels sound, listening for tiny time and volume differences in the sound’s arrival at the two ears to help locate the origin. But the team found no evidence that the animal’s body alters sound transmission sufficiently for the animal to be able to detect the difference. And when the team measured alligators’ brainstem responses to sounds, they were too fast for the animals to sense these small time differences.Next, the team looked for internal structures in the alligators’ heads that might propagate sound between the two eardrums. Viewing slices through the heads of young alligators, the team could clearly see two channels linking the two middle ears that could transmit sound between the two eardrums.Sound reaches both sides of the eardrum — travelling externally to reach the outer side and through head structures to the internal side — to amplify the vibration at some frequencies when the head is aligned with the sound. This maximizes the pressure differences on the two sides of the eardrum, magnifying the time difference between the sound arriving at the ear drum via two different paths to allow the animal to pinpoint the source. …

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Coal plant closure in China led to improvements in children’s health

Decreased exposure to air pollution in utero is linked with improved childhood developmental scores and higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key protein for brain development, according to a study looking at the closure of a coal-burning power plant in China led by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.The study is the first to assess BDNF and cognitive development with respect to prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a component of air pollution commonly emitted from coal burning. Results appear online in the journal PLOS ONE.The 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China provided the opportunity to investigate the benefits to development and the impacts on BDNF associated with decreased levels of exposure to PAH. This study has linked decreases in air pollution with decreased levels of PAH-DNA adducts in cord blood, a biological marker of exposure, and reported an association between PAH exposure and adverse developmental outcomes in children born before the plant closure. Currently, coal-fired power plants produce more than 70% of China’s electricity.Deliang Tang, MD, DrPH, and his colleagues followed two groups of mother-child pairs from pregnancy into early childhood. One of the groups was made up of mothers pregnant while the coal power plant was still open and the other after it closed. Developmental delay was determined using a standardized test, the Gesell Developmental Schedule (GDS), which was adapted for the Chinese population. The GDS assesses children in four areas: motor skills, learned behaviors, language, and social adaptation.The researchers found that, as hypothesized, decreased PAH exposure resulting from the power plant closure was associated with both increased BDNF levels and increased developmental scores. PAH-DNA adducts were significantly lower in the babies born after the coal power plant shutdown as compared to those born before the closure, indicating a meaningful exposure reduction. Moreover, the researchers found that the mean level of BDNF was higher among children born after the closure of the power plant. The impacts of PAH exposure and BDNF on developmental scores was also analyzed considering all the children, including both the pre- and post-closure groups. …

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