Genes increase the stress of social disadvantage for some children

Genes amplify the stress of harsh environments for some children, and magnify the advantage of supportive environments for other children, according to a study that’s one of the first to document how genes interacting with social environments affect biomarkers of stress.”Our findings suggest that an individual’s genetic architecture moderates the magnitude of the response to external stimuli — but it is the environment that determines the direction” says Colter Mitchell, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses telomere length as a marker of stress. Found at the ends of chromosomes, telomeres generally shorten with age, and when individuals are exposed to disease and chronic stress, including the stress of living in a disadvantaged environment.For the study, Mitchell and colleagues used telomere samples from a group of 40 nine-year-old boys from two very different environments – one nurturing and the other harsh. Those in the nurturing environment came from stable families, with nurturing parenting, good maternal mental health, and positive socioeconomic conditions, while those in the harsh environment experienced high levels of poverty, harsh parenting, poor maternal mental health, and high family instability.For those children with heightened sensitivity in the serotonergic and dopaminergic genetic pathways compared to other children, telomere length was shortest in a disadvantaged environment, and longest in a supportive environment.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Flipping the switch on scleroderma

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

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Biological evidence of positive and negative people in the world

The ability to stay positive when times get tough — and, conversely, of being negative — may be hardwired in the brain, finds new research led by a Michigan State University psychologist.The study, which appears in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, is the first to provide biological evidence validating the idea that there are, in fact, positive and negative people in the world.”It’s the first time we’ve been able to find a brain marker that really distinguishes negative thinkers from positive thinkers,” said Jason Moser, lead investigator and assistant professor of psychology.For the study, 71 female participants were shown graphic images and asked to put a positive spin on them while their brain activity was recorded. Participants were shown a masked man holding a knife to a woman’s throat, for example, and told one potential outcome was the woman breaking free and escaping.The participants were surveyed beforehand to establish who tended to think positively and who thought negatively or worried. Sure enough, the brain reading of the positive thinkers was much less active than that of the worriers during the experiment.”The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions,” Moser said. “This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”The study focused on women because they are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety related problems and previously reported sex differences in brain structure and function could have obscured the results.Moser said the findings have implications in the way negative thinkers approach difficult situations.”You can’t just tell your friend to think positively or to not worry — that’s probably not going to help them,” he said. “So you need to take another tack and perhaps ask them to think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”Negative thinkers could also practice thinking positively, although Moser suspects it would take a lot of time and effort to even start to make a difference.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Understanding plant-soil interaction could lead to new ways to combat weeds

Using high-powered DNA-based tools, a recent study at the University of Illinois identified soil microbes that negatively affect ragweed and provided a new understanding of the complex relationships going on beneath the soil surface between plants and microorganisms.”Plant scientists have been studying plant-soil feedback for decades,” said U of I microbial ecologist Tony Yannarell. “Some microbes are famous for their ability to change the soil, such as the microbes that are associated with legumes — we knew about those bacteria. But now we have the ability to use high-power DNA fingerprinting tools to look at all of the microbes in the soil, beyond just the ones we’ve known about. We were able to look at an entire microbial community and identify those microbes that both preferred ragweed and affected its growth.”Although it would seem that the logical conclusion would be to simply add anti-ragweed microbes to soil, Yannarell said that adding microbes to soil hasn’t been successful in the past. An effective strategy, however, to suppress weeds might be to use plants that are known to attract the microbes that are bad for ragweed, and in so doing, encourage the growth of a microbial community that will kill it.The study used Manhattan, Kan. (sunflower) and Urbana, Ill. (ragweed) and conducted trials independently at agricultural research facilities in Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, South Dakota, and Oregon, using local soils gathered on site. These particular weeds were selected because ragweed is a more common weed east of the Mississippi and sunflower is more common in the West.The experiment allowed Yannarell and his colleagues to observe how three generations of ragweed and sunflower interacted with the microbial community in the soil. The plants interact with each other indirectly due to the differing effects they each have on the microbes in the soil.”We used the same soil continuously so it had a chance to be changed,” Yannarell said. “We let the plants do the manipulation.”Interestingly, they did not find the same ragweed-preferring microbe across all five states. …

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Time out: Spanking babies is surprisingly common, U.S. study finds

The same hands that parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and bathe their babies are also commonly used to spank their bundles of joy.A new University of Michigan study found that 30 percent of 1-year-old children were spanked at least once in the past month by their mother, father or both parents.A long-time topic of debate, spanking children is a common practice among U.S. parents. Previous research has focused on disciplining children as young as age 3, in part, because spanking is common among children of this age. Studies have shown that spanking is related to children’s greater aggression, depression and other negative behavior.But the latest findings show that spanking is used on children who are so young that, in some cases, they haven’t even taken their first step.Researchers examined 2,788 families who participated in a longitudinal study of new births in urban areas. The study indicated that spanking by the child’s mother, father or mother’s current partner when the child was a year old was linked to child protective services’ involvement between ages 1 and 5. During that time, 10 percent of the families received at least one visit by CPS.U-M social work professors Shawna Lee and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor say that spanking babies is particularly misguided and potentially harmful, and may set off a cascade of inappropriate parental behavior. Their research is a snapshot of a larger problem: many people lack parenting skills that include alternatives to spanking.”Intervention to reduce or eliminate spanking has the potential to contribute to the well-being of families and children who are at-risk of becoming involved with the (social services) system,” Lee said.Perinatal well-baby clinical visits and home visitations after the child’s birth are opportunities for pediatricians, nurses and social workers to talk to parents about alternatives to spanking babies and toddlers, the researchers say.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Save money and the planet: Turn your old milk jugs into 3-D printer filament

Making your own stuff with a 3D printer is vastly cheaper than what you’d pay for manufactured goods, even factoring in the cost of buying the plastic filament.Yet, you can drive the cost down even more by making your own filament from old milk jugs. And, while you are patting yourself on the back for saving 99 cents on the dollar, there’s a bonus: you can feel warm and fuzzy about preserving the environment.A study led by Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University has shown that making your own plastic 3D printer filament from milk jugs uses less energy — often a lot less — than recycling milk jugs conventionally.Pearce’s team did a life-cycle analysis on a run-of-the-mill milk jug made from HDPE plastic. After cleaning it and cutting it in pieces, they ran it through an office shredder and a RecycleBot, which turns waste plastic into 3D printer filament.Compared to an ideal urban recycling program, which collects and processes plastic locally, turning milk jugs into filament at home uses about 3 percent less energy. “Where it really shows substantial savings is in smaller towns like Houghton, where you have to transport the plastic to be collected, then again to be recycled, and a third time to be made into products,” said Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering. Then the energy savings skyrocket to 70-80 percent. And, recycling your own milk jugs uses 90 percent less energy than making virgin plastic from petroleum.Pearce also compared the cost of making your own filament with buying it.”Filament is retailing for between $36 and $50 a kilogram, and you can produce your own filament for 10 cents a kilogram if you use recycled plastic,” he said. “There’s a clear incentive, even if you factor in the cost of buying the RecycleBot.”Commercial variants like the Filastruder cost under $300.HDPE plastic isn’t ideal. “It shrinks slightly as it cools, so you have to take that into account,” said Pearce. “But if you are making something like a statue or a pencil holder, it doesn’t matter.”This new recycling technology has caught the eye of the Ethical Filament Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of waste pickers, who scour other people’s trash for items to sell or recycle. “In the developing world, it’s hard to get filament, and if these recyclers could make it and sell it for, say, $15 a kilogram, they’d make enough money to pull themselves out of poverty while doing the world a lot of good,” he said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan Technological University. …

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Shaky Hand, Stable Spoon: Device Helps Essential Tremor Patients

For people whose hands shake uncontrollably due to a medical condition, just eating can be a frustrating and embarrassing ordeal — enough to keep them from sharing a meal with others.But a small new study conducted at the University of Michigan Health System suggests that a new handheld electronic device can help such patients overcome the hand shakes caused by essential tremor, the most common movement disorder.In a clinical trial involving 15 adults with moderate essential tremor, the device improved patients’ ability to hold a spoon still enough to eat with it, and to use it to scoop up mock food and bring it to their mouths.The researchers measured the effect three ways: using a standard tremor rating, the patients’ own ratings, and digital readings of the spoon’s movement.The results are published online in the journal Movement Disorders by a research team that includes U-M neurologist and essential tremor specialist Kelvin Chou, M.D., as well as three people from the small startup company, Lift Labs, that makes the device, called Liftware. The study was funded by a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health that the researchers applied for together.Public-private partnership — with a Michigan differenceThe technology came full circle to its test in the UMHS clinic. The company’s CEO, Anupam Pathak, Ph.D., received his doctorate from the U-M College of Engineering — where he first worked on tremor-cancelling advanced microelectronic technologies for other purposes.The concept is called ACT, or active cancellation of tremor. It relies on tiny electronic devices that work together to sense movement in different directions in real time, and then make a quick and precise counter-motion.Lift Labs, based in San Francisco, developed the device, which resembles an extra-large electronic toothbrush base. It can adjust rapidly to the shaking of the user’s hand, keeping a detachable spoon or other utensil steady. In other words, it shakes the spoon in exactly the opposite way that the person’s hand shakes.But to truly test whether their prototype device could help essential tremor patients overcome their condition’s effects, the Lift Labs team turned to Chou, who with his colleagues sees hundreds of essential tremor patients a year.UMHS offers comprehensive care for the condition as part of its Movement Disorders Center. Chou and his colleagues have experience in prescribing a range of medication to calm tremors, and evaluating which patients might benefit from advanced brain surgery to implant a device that can calm the uncontrollable nerve impulses that cause tremor.”Only about 70 percent of patients respond to medication, and only about 10 percent qualify for surgery, which has a high and lasting success rate,” says Chou, who is an associate professor in the U-M Medical School’s departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery. “People get really frustrated by tremor, and experience embarrassment that often leads to social isolation because they’re always feeling conscious not just eating but even drinking from a cup or glass.”The trial, Chou says, showed that the amplitude of movement due to the tremor decreased measurably, and that patients could move the spoon much more normally. Though the trial did not include patients with hand tremors caused by other movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, the device may be useful to such patients too, he notes.Says Pathak, “A key aspect of Liftware is a design with empathy. We hear of people struggling every day, and decided to apply technology in a way to directly help. …

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Pinwheel ‘living’ crystals and the origin of life

Simply making nanoparticles spin coaxes them to arrange themselves into what University of Michigan researchers call ‘living rotating crystals’ that could serve as a nanopump. They may also, incidentally, shed light on the origin of life itself.The researchers refer to the crystals as ‘living’ because they, in a sense, take on a life of their own from very simple rules.Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and her team found that when they spun individual nanoparticles in a simulation — some clockwise and some counterclockwise — the particles self-assembled into an intricate architecture.The team discovered the behavior while investigating methods to make particles self-assemble — one of the major challenges in nanotechnology — without complicated procedures. When the pieces are a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand, normal techniques for building structures are no longer effective.For this reason, researchers like Glotzer are exploring ways to make order develop naturally from disorder, much like what may have occurred at the very beginnings of life.”If we can understand that, not only can we begin to imagine new ways to make materials and devices, but also we may begin to understand how the first living structures emerged from a soup of chemicals,” said Glotzer, who is also a professor of materials science and engineering, macromolecular science and engineering, physics, and applied physics.”One way biology approaches the challenge of assembly is by constantly feeding building blocks with energy. So, that’s what we did with nanoparticles.”Recently, researchers in the field have found that if particles are given energy for some basic motion, such as moving in one direction, they can begin to influence one another, forming groups. Glotzer’s team looked at what would happen if the particles all were made to rotate.”They organize themselves,” said Daphne Klotsa, a research fellow in Glotzer’s lab. “They developed collective dynamics that we couldn’t have foreseen.”The team’s computer simulation can be imagined as two sets of pinwheels on an air hockey table. The air pushing up from the table drives some of the pinwheels clockwise, and others counterclockwise. When the pinwheels are tightly packed enough that their blades catch on one another, the team found that they begin to divide themselves into clockwise and counter-clockwise spinners — a self-organizing behavior known among researchers as phase separation.”The important finding here is that we get phase separation without real attraction,” Klotsa said.She calls the self-sorting counterintuitive because no direct forces push the same — spin pinwheels together or push opposite-spinners apart.The separation occurs because of the way the pinwheel blades collide. While a pair of pinwheels may be spinning in the same direction, where their blades might meet, they’re actually moving in opposite directions. …

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Smellizing — Imagining a Product’s Smell — Increases Consumer Desire

Seeing is believing, but smellizing — a new term for prompting consumers to imagine the smell of a product — could be the next step toward more effective advertising. Researchers came to this conclusion through four studies of products most of us would like to smellize: cookies and cake.Professor of Marketing Maureen Morrin of Temple University’s Fox School of Business co-authored Smellizing Cookies and Salivating: A Focus on Olfactory Imagery to examine the impact imagining what a food smells like would have on consumer behavior.”Before we started this project, we looked for print ads that asked consumers to imagine the smell of the product, and we found none,” Morrin said. “We think it’s because advertisers don’t think it’ll actually do anything.”But researchers found that smellizing — imagining a smell — increased consumers’ desire to consume and purchase advertised food products.Consumers’ response to advertised food products was measured over several studies that looked at the effect of smellizing on salivation, desire and actual food consumption. The researchers found that imagining what a tasty food smells like increases these types of responses only when the consumer also sees a picture of the advertised product.Participants who looked at print advertisements were prompted by questions such as: Fancy a freshly baked cookie?; Feel like a chocolate cake?; and Feel like a freshly baked cookie? Look for these in a store near you.Morrin found that these types of headlines had a positive impact on desire to consume the product, if they were accompanied by a call to also imagine the smell of the food. This positive impact was strongest when the image of the product could be seen at the same time study participants imagined the smell.According to the study, olfactory imagery processing is different from that of the other senses, especially vision.”It has been shown, for example, that although individuals can discriminate among thousands of different odors and are reasonably good at detecting odors they have smelled before, they are quite poor at identifying the odors they smell,” the study said. “That is, individuals often have difficulty stating just what it is they happen to be smelling at any particular moment, unless they can see the odor referent.”This may be why a picture is so important in activating the effects of smellizing.When asked (versus not being asked) to imagine a scent with a visual, participants’ salivation increased by .36 to .39 grams in two of the studies. In another study, when asked to imagine a scent with a visual, participants consumed 5.3 more grams of the advertised cookies. These effects depended on seeing the advertised food while imaging its smell.The researchers also found that actually smelling the advertised products was even more effective on the various measures of consumer response than merely imagining the smells. But it’s not always feasible to present consumers with product odors in advertisements.According to Morrin, advertisers are not adequately tapping into the power of the sense of smell when developing promotional messages to encourage consumers to buy their products.Morrin’s study, co-authored with Aradhna Krishna of the University of Michigan and Eda Sayin of Ko University in Turkey, appears in the Journal of Consumer Research (PDF).Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Temple University. …

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Investigating the fiber of our being: How our gut bacteria metabolize complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables

We are all aware of the health benefits of dietary fiber. But what is dietary fiber and how do we metabolize it?Research at the University of Michigan Medical School, the University of York’s Structural Biology Laboratory, and institutions in Canada and Sweden, has begun to uncover how our gut bacteria metabolize the complex dietary carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables.Trillions of bacteria live in human intestines — there are about ten times more bacterial cells in the average person’s body than human ones. Known as “microbiota,” these bacteria have a vital role to play in human health: they are central to our metabolism and well-being.The research team has uncovered how one group of gut bacteria, known as Bacteroidetes, digest complex sugars known as xyloglucans. These make up to 25 per cent of the dry weight of dietary fruit and vegetables including lettuce, onion, eggplant and tomatoes.In a recent issue of Nature, the researchers reported on a particular gene sequence that allows Bacteroidetes to carry out this function. They show that about 92 per cent of the population harbors bacteria with a variant of the gene sequence, according to a survey of public genome data from 250 adult humans.Understanding how these bacteria digest complex carbohydrates informs studies on a wide range of nutritional issues. These include probiotics (the consumption of ‘beneficial’ micro-organisms as a food supplement) and prebiotics (the consumption of foods or supplements intended to stimulate the production of healthy bacteria in the gut).”Its been appreciated for a long time that our symbiotic gut bacteria provide us with greatly expanded abilities to digest dietary fiber. However, the precise details of how this happens remain largely unexplored,” says co-corresponding author Eric Martens, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the U-M Medical School. Martens is participating in the Host Microbiome Initiative, part of the U-M Medical School’s Strategic Research Initiative.Large-scale genome sequencing efforts, like the Human Microbiome Project, have focused on the community of microorganisms that live in the human gut. But these approaches can only uncover functions that have already been experimentally described, and much of what is sequenced is still unknown.”In this study, we took an empirical approach to decipher how one model gut bacterium digests one type of fiber that is abundant in the foods we eat. We were subsequently able to fit our findings into a much larger picture because of the existing data that the Human Microbiome Project has already gathered. …

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Survey: Americans struggle with science; respect scientists

While most Americans could be a bit more knowledgeable in the ways of science, a majority are interested in hearing about the latest scientific breakthroughs and think highly of scientists.This is according to a survey of more than 2,200 people conducted by the National Science Foundation, one that is conducted every two years and is part of a report — Science and Engineering Indicators — that the National Science Board provides to the president and Congress.A Michigan State University faculty member served as lead author for the chapter in the report that covers public perceptions of science. John Besley, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations, reviewed the data, as well as similar surveys from around the world, and highlighted key findings on Feb. 14 during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.According to the survey, more than 90 percent of Americans think scientists are “helping to solve challenging problems” and are “dedicated people who work for the good of humanity.””It’s important for Americans to maintain a high regard for science and scientists,” said Besley, who also is the Ellis N. Brandt Chair in Public Relations. “It can help ensure funding and help attract future scientists.”Unfortunately, Americans still have a tough time answering some basic science questions. Out of a total of nine questions that covered the physical and biological sciences, the average score was 6.5 correct answers.For example, only 74 percent of those queried knew that Earth revolved around the sun, while fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings developed from earlier species of animals.Some of the other highlights of the survey include:A majority of Americans — more than 90 percent — say they are “very interested” or “moderately interested” in learning about new medical discoveries. The United States appears to be relatively strong in the use of what’s known as “informal science education.” Nearly 60 percent of Americans have visited a zoo/aquarium, natural history museum or a science and technology museum. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed think the benefits of science outweigh any potential dangers. About a third of the respondents think science and technology should get more funding. Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. …

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Link between zebra mussels, risk of algae blooms

Researchers at Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute are learning more about the impact invasive zebra mussels and native aquatic insect larvae have on the risk of algae blooms in two West Michigan lakes. The results of the research will be published in the journal Oikos.Postdoctoral researcher Geraldine Nogaro and AWRI director Alan Steinman studied the impact that invasive zebra mussels and native chironomid larvae have on nutrient releases in Muskegon Lake and Bear Lake. While studying the mussels, Nogaro and Steinman noted that filter feeding and excretion activity by invasive mussels stimulated nutrient releases in the water column. The other subject of the research was the impact of native chironomids, which are insect larvae that live in the sediment on the lake bottoms. The researchers found the chironomids burrowed into the sediment, moving water and oxygen into the sediment and increased the levels of nutrients released into the sediment porewater and water column.”When nutrient levels increase, so does the risk of stimulated algae blooms,” Nogaro said. “The blooms are problematic because you can’t enjoy the lakes, and because certain blooms of cyanobacteria can release toxins into the water, which impacts fish and other wildlife.”Nogaro also said bacteria growing on decomposing algae blooms can suck up valuable dissolved oxygen in the lake, which can result in large fish kills in the affected areas.The research reinforces the need to monitor the numbers of mussels in the lake, along with the need to reduce human nutrient input into the ecosystem, including storm runoff that contains nonpoint source pollution.”These results have management implications, as the effects of invasive mussels on the biogeochemical functioning in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere can alter system bioenergetics and promote harmful algal blooms,” Steinman said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Grand Valley State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Investigating the fiber of our being: How our gut bacteria metabolizes complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables

We are all aware of the health benefits of dietary fiber. But what is dietary fiber and how do we metabolize it?Research at the University of Michigan Medical School, the University of York’s Structural Biology Laboratory, and institutions in Canada and Sweden, has begun to uncover how our gut bacteria metabolize the complex dietary carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables.Trillions of bacteria live in human intestines — there are about ten times more bacterial cells in the average person’s body than human ones. Known as “microbiota,” these bacteria have a vital role to play in human health: they are central to our metabolism and well-being.The research team has uncovered how one group of gut bacteria, known as Bacteroidetes, digest complex sugars known as xyloglucans. These make up to 25 per cent of the dry weight of dietary fruit and vegetables including lettuce, onion, eggplant and tomatoes.In a recent issue of Nature, the researchers reported on a particular gene sequence that allows Bacteroidetes to carry out this function. They show that about 92 per cent of the population harbors bacteria with a variant of the gene sequence, according to a survey of public genome data from 250 adult humans.Understanding how these bacteria digest complex carbohydrates informs studies on a wide range of nutritional issues. These include probiotics (the consumption of ‘beneficial’ micro-organisms as a food supplement) and prebiotics (the consumption of foods or supplements intended to stimulate the production of healthy bacteria in the gut).”Its been appreciated for a long time that our symbiotic gut bacteria provide us with greatly expanded abilities to digest dietary fiber. However, the precise details of how this happens remain largely unexplored,” says co-corresponding author Eric Martens, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the U-M Medical School. Martens is participating in the Host Microbiome Initiative, part of the U-M Medical School’s Strategic Research Initiative.Large-scale genome sequencing efforts, like the Human Microbiome Project, have focused on the community of microorganisms that live in the human gut. But these approaches can only uncover functions that have already been experimentally described, and much of what is sequenced is still unknown.”In this study, we took an empirical approach to decipher how one model gut bacterium digests one type of fiber that is abundant in the foods we eat. We were subsequently able to fit our findings into a much larger picture because of the existing data that the Human Microbiome Project has already gathered. …

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Teens who consume energy drinks more likely to use alcohol, drugs

Nearly one-third of US adolescents consume high-caffeine energy drinks or “shots,” and these teens report higher rates of alcohol, cigarette, or drug use, reports a study in the January/February Journal of Addiction Medicine, the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.The same characteristics that attract young people to consume energy drinks — such as being “sensation-seeking or risk-oriented” — may make them more likely to use other substances as well, suggests the new research by Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, MSA, and colleagues of the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.High Use of Energy Drinks/Shots by US TeensThe researchers analyzed nationally representative data on nearly 22,000 US secondary school students (eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders). The teens were participants in the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.In response to questionnaires, about 30 percent of teens reported using caffeine-containing energy drinks or shots. More than 40 percent said they drank regular soft drinks every day, while 20 percent drank diet soft drinks daily.Boys were more likely to use energy drinks than girls. Use was also higher for teens without two parents at home and those whose parents were less educated. Perhaps surprisingly, the youngest teens (eighth graders) were most likely to use energy drinks/shots.Students who used energy drinks/shots were also more likely to report recent use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs. Across age groups and with adjustment for other factors, teens who used energy drinks/shots were two or three times more likely to report other types of substance use, compared to those who didn’t use energy drinks.Soft drink consumption was also related to substance use. However, the associations were much stronger for energy drinks/shots.May Have Implications for Risk of Substance UseEnergy drinks and shots are products containing high doses of caffeine, marketed as aids to increasing energy, concentration, or alertness. Studies in young adults suggest that consumption of energy drinks is associated with increased use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco.In young adults, energy drinks have been linked to behavioral patterns of “sensation-seeking or risk orientation.” Energy drinks are often used together with alcohol, which may “mask” the intoxicating effects of alcohol. …

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Obesity in men could dictate future colon screenings

Obesity is a known risk factor for many cancers including colon cancer, yet the reasons behind the colon cancer link have often remained unclear.A Michigan State University study is shedding more light on the topic and has shown that elevated leptin — a fat hormone — higher body mass index and a larger waistline in men is associated with a greater likelihood of having colorectal polyps, precancerous growths linked to colon cancer.The result may put men at an even greater risk of the disease and also may mean their body weight could eventually be a deciding factor in whether a colonoscopy is in their future. Today, age and family history typically dictate a screening.Jenifer Fenton, assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Kari Hortos, associate dean in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Macomb University Center, led the 18-month, cross-sectional study, which followed 126 healthy, white American males ranging from 48 to 65 years of age. Participants showed no signs or symptoms of health issues, yet underwent routine colonoscopies.”What we found is 78 percent of the 126 men in the study were either overweight or obese based on their BMI or waist circumference. Of those, about 30 percent were found to have more than one polyp after colonoscopies were performed,” said Fenton. “In fact, the more obese participants were 6.5 times more likely to have three polyps compared to their thinner counterparts.”Sarah Comstock, a co-author of the study and research fellow in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, also indicated that the significance of the research is twofold.”Not only does it show the association that leptin and a higher BMI have with colon polyps, but it gives us a better snapshot on how body weight and other factors may actually help us determine who might be at a higher risk of developing polyps,” she said.With obesity rates climbing during the past 20 years within the United States and colon cancer being the second-leading killer of men and women in the nation, these facts compelled Fenton and her team to conduct research which could identify the specific biomarkers of obesity and early-stage colon cancer and help in prevention efforts.Previous research published by Fenton in 2009 identified the connection between obesity and colon cancer through examining tissue hormones. These studies demonstrated that, at higher levels, leptin worked as a primary mechanism in inducing precancerous colon cells by increasing the blood supply to them and promoting their progression.”Even with all of our research, there’s still more to be done, particularly in larger, more diverse populations, before any changes in screening recommendations can be made,” said Fenton. “But we’ve definitely got a good start.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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As the temperature drops, your risk of fracture rises

Record-setting winter weather in the U.S. has led to lots of road condition advisories, but could there also be a slip and fall alert?By analyzing various conditions — like snow, wind speed, temperature — into a ‘Slipperiness Score,’ a University of Michigan Health System study helps identify what days are the most risky for slip and fall injuries.The study, published in February’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal, focuses on Medicare patients, all over age 65, but authors note, the risk of falling exists for anyone during harsh winter weather.”Although the concept that slippery footing increases your risk of falling isn’t new, what we’ve been able to show is that these dangerous conditions result in more fractures in this already vulnerable population of adults,” says lead study author Aviram Giladi, M.D., a resident in the U-M Department of Surgery’s Division of Plastic Surgery.The study findings include:Based on a scale, ranging from 0 to 7, on a day with a score above 4 the risk of sustaining a wrist fracture increased by 21 percent. On the most slippery days, that additional risk went up to nearly 40 percent. In the winter, over 1,000 additional wrist fractures occurred among adults age 65 and older compared to other seasons. Nearly 90,000 Medicare enrollees sustain wrist fractures each year, frequently from falls while standing and usually outdoors. The fractures can be quite limiting, and lead to a loss of independence for older patients. Medicare spends more than $240 million a year treating the injuries.”Understanding the risk of these injuries can help inform prevention and preparation efforts, especially on days where the weather is bound to result in more slippery conditions,” says senior study author Kevin C. Chung, M.D., professor of plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery and the Charles B. G. de Nancrede Professor of Surgery. …

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To calculate long-term conservation pay off, factor in people

Paying people to protect their natural environment is a popular conservation tool around the world — but figure out that return on investment, for both people and nature, is a thorny problem, especially since such efforts typically stretch on for years.”Short attention-span worlds with long attention-span problems” is how Xiaodong Chen, a former Michigan State University doctoral student now on faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill sums it up.Chen, with his adviser Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) and others, have developed a new way to evaluate and model the long-term effectiveness of conservation investments. Their achievement is not only factoring in ecological gains — like, more trees growing — but also putting the actions and reactions of people into the equation.The paper, Assessing the Effectiveness of Payments for Ecosystem Services: an Agent-Based Modeling Approach, appears in this week’s online edition of Ecology and Society.The paper examines payments for ecosystem services — the practice of paying people to perform tasks or engage in practices that aid conservation. The authors examined one of China’s most sweeping — the National Forest Conservation Program, in which residents in Wolong Nature Reserve are paid to stop chopping down trees for timber and fuel wood.Chen explained they tapped into both social data and environmental information to be able to create a computer model to simulate how the policy would fare over many years in a variety of scenarios. Studies documenting results on land cover change and panda habitat dynamics were merged with studies revealing how people were likely to behave if new households were formed or incentives for conservation activities were varied.”Usually studies are developed in either the social sciences or the natural sciences, and the importance of the other perspectives are not built into scientific exploration,” Chen said. “We were able to develop this kind of simulation because of collaborative interdisciplinary research — by putting people with different backgrounds together.”He also said the model’s ability to run scenarios about how policy could work over decades is crucial because many goals of conservation, like restoring wildlife habitat, can take decades. In the meantime, the actions of individuals living in the area can change.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Weapons tied to repeat domestic abuse

Women are up to 83 percent more likely to experience repeat abuse by their male partners if a weapon is used in the initial abuse incident, according to a new study that has implications for victims, counselors and police.Michigan State University researcher Amy Bonomi and colleagues studied the domestic abuse police reports of nearly 6,000 couples in Seattle during a two-year period. An estimated one in four women in the United States experience domestic violence at least once in their lifetime.Because previous research showed that domestic abuse is more common in poor urban neighborhoods, the researchers expected to find that repeat violence could be predicted by where the couple lived.But that wasn’t the case. Instead, the main predictor of ongoing domestic violence was the use of a knife, gun or even a vehicle in the first incident. In those cases, women were 72 percent more likely to make follow-up calls to police for physical abuse and 83 percent more likely to call for nonphysical abuse — such as a partner threatening to kill them.”What this is telling police is that they are likely to be called back to this particular residence if a weapon is involved the first time they are called out,” said Bonomi, chairperson and professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “It’s an indication of the danger and severity of abuse over time.””The presence of weapons in the home,” she added, “is also a red flag for the women themselves and the counselors who deal with domestic violence.”The study appears online in the research journal Violence Against Women.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Heavy air pollution in Canadian area with cancer spikes

Oct. 22, 2013 — Levels of contaminants higher than in some of the world’s most polluted cities have been found downwind of Canada’s largest oil, gas and tar sands processing zone, in a rural area where men suffer elevated rates of cancers linked to such chemicals.The findings by UC Irvine and University of Michigan scientists, published online this week, reveal high levels of the carcinogens 1,3-butadiene and benzene and other airborne pollutants. The researchers also obtained health records spanning more than a decade that showed the number of men with leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was greater in communities closest to the pollution plumes than in neighboring counties. The work is a dramatic illustration of a new World Health Organization report that outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer.While the scientists stopped short of saying that the pollutants they documented were definitely causing the male cancers, they strongly recommended that the industrial emissions be decreased to protect both workers and nearby residents.”Our study was designed to test what kinds of concentrations could be encountered on the ground during a random visit downwind of various facilities. We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” said UC Irvine chemist Isobel Simpson, lead author of the paper in Atmospheric Environment. “Our main point is that it would be good to proactively lower these emissions of known carcinogens. You can study it and study it, but at some point you just have to say, ‘Let’s reduce it.’ “Co-author Stuart Batterman, a University of Michigan professor of environmental health sciences, agreed: “These levels, found over a broad area, are clearly associated with industrial emissions. They also are evidence of major regulatory gaps in monitoring and controlling such emissions and in public health surveillance.”The researchers captured emissions in the rural Fort Saskatchewan area downwind of major refineries, chemical manufacturers and tar sands processors owned by BP, Dow, Shell and other companies in the so-called “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta. They took one-minute samples at random times in 2008, 2010 and 2012. All showed similar results. …

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Habitat research methods give a new peek at tiger life

Oct. 18, 2013 — From a tiger’s point of view, yesterday’s thoughtful conservation plans might be today’s reason to branch out. An international team of researchers has found a useful way to better understand the tiger’s take on policy.Twelve years ago, a team led by Jianguo “Jack” Liu at Michigan State University (MSU) showed that China needed to revisit how it was protecting its pandas. Now research on tiger habitat in Nepal, published this week’s Ecosphere journal of the Ecological Society of America, again shows that conservation demands not only good policy, but monitoring even years down the road.”Understanding long-term outcomes of conservation programs is crucial and requires innovative methods,” Liu said. “Now we’re learning that Nepal’s outstanding efforts to protect tigers are best supported with close monitoring because conservation situations are so dynamic. In both cases, the key is to understand how the people who live near the valued wildlife are faring as well.”Neil Carter, who recently received a doctoral degree from MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, follows up on trailblazing research of Liu, his adviser.Carter has spent years studying endangered tigers in Chitwan National Park in Nepal’s Himalayan lowlands. The park, established in 1973 to protect both the tigers and the area’s biodiversity, was not without cost to the people who live around the area. Those residents depend on the same forests for wood for fuel and building and grasses to thatch roofs and feed their livestock, and the policies that govern it are top-down, with little input from residents.In 1996, Nepal added a buffer zone next to the park to both improve the area’s ecosystem and help improve the livelihoods of the people who live there. In the buffer zone, people are allowed both more access to the forest’s resources and more say in its management.In Ecosphere, Carter reports a unique approach to monitoring the condition of the tiger’s habitat by combining satellite images and camera trap data on where the tigers were hanging out.Tigers like grasslands, which support high prey numbers and likely give tigers cover to hunt their prey. Because tigers require large areas, they prefer their cover not be too broken up.Turns out that growing human populations around Nepal are growing, and with that increasing unauthorized human use of local natural resources, is reducing the quality of tiger habitat inside Chitwan National Park. …

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