Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified

A first-of-its-kind satellite tagging study of migrating New England leatherback turtles in the North Atlantic offers a greatly improved understanding of their seasonal high-use habitats, diving activity and response to key ocean and environmental features in relation to their search behavior. Leatherbacks are considered endangered species in all the world’s oceans.The study, part of doctoral research by Kara Dodge supervised by her advisor, Molly Lutcavage of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Large Pelagics Research Center (LPRC) in Gloucester, followed leatherbacks in their northern US feeding grounds. It allowed for a rare glimpse into the migratory patterns and behavior of immature and adult male turtles.Most satellite tagging studies of leatherbacks have focused on adult females on their tropical nesting beaches, so little is known worldwide about males and subadults, the researcher point out. But now, tagging and satellite tracking in locations where leatherbacks forage has allowed the scientists to get a much richer picture of the leatherback’s behavior and dispersal patterns on the open ocean.Findings suggest that a habitat model that includes ecoregion, topography and sea surface temperature best explains the leatherbacks’ search patterns for prey. The tagged leatherbacks in this LPRC-led study showed a strong affinity for the Northeast U.S. shelf during the summer and fall when full-sized jellyfish are present.New knowledge about leatherbacks, particularly in coastal habitats, is important, the authors say, because “coastal ecosystems are under intense pressure worldwide, with some of the highest predicted cumulative impact in the North American eastern seaboard and the eastern Caribbean. Parts of those regions constitute high-use habitat for leatherbacks in our study, putting turtles at heightened risk from both land- and ocean-based human activity.”Lutcavage and colleagues’ findings appear in the current issue of PLOS ONE. These will be useful to agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MassDMF) charged with protecting leatherbacks under international treaties and national laws, and in international efforts to protect leatherbacks throughout the North Atlantic.Lutcavage, Dodge, and Ben Galuardi of the LPRC, with Tim Miller of NOAA, set out to determine how leatherbacks behave in distinct regions, or “ecoregions” of the North Atlantic, as well as their diving habits in those areas and other new information. For this study, supported by LPRC, NOAA Fisheries, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and MassDMF, the team worked with commercial fishermen, spotter pilots and the Massachusetts sea turtle disentanglement network from 2007 to 2009 to tag 20 leatherback turtles off the coast of Cape Cod.Leatherbacks have long been known to inhabit New England waters, says Lutcavage. …

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New guidelines deem 13 million more Americans eligible for statins

New guidelines for using statins to treat high cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease are projected to result in 12.8 million more U.S. adults taking the drugs, according to a research team led by Duke Medicine scientists.The findings for the first time quantify the impact of the American Heart Association’s new guidelines, which were issued in November and generated both controversy and speculation about who should be given a prescription for statins.In an analysis of health data published online March 19, 2014, in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team led by researchers at the Duke Clinical Research Institute found that most of the additional statin users under the new guidelines would be people older than age 60.”We sought to do a principled, scientific study to try to answer how the new guidelines might affect statin use, particularly as they focused eligibility on patients with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Michael J. Pencina, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics at DCRI. “By our estimate, there might be an uptake in usage as a result of the guidelines, from 43.2 million people to 56 million, which is nearly half of the U.S. population between the ages of 40 and 75.”Pencina and colleagues from McGill University and Boston University used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) for their analysis, focusing on 3,773 participants between the ages of 40-75 who had provided detailed medical information, including fasting cholesterol levels from blood tests.The new guidelines expand the criteria for statin use to include people whose 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is elevated based on a risk-assessment score.The DCRI-led research team determined that the new guidelines could result in 49 percent of U.S. adults ages 40-75 being recommended for statin therapy, an increase from 38 percent.The increase is much more pronounced among adults free of cardiovascular disease who are over age 60, with 77 percent recommended for statin use under the new guidelines vs. 48 percent under the previous standards. This contrasts with a modest increase from 27 percent to 30 percent among U.S. adults between the ages of 40 and 60.Those most affected by the new recommendations are older men who are not on statins and do not have cardiovascular disease. Under the earlier guidelines, about 30.4 percent of this group of men between the ages of 60-75 were recommended for statin use. …

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Amazon inhales more carbon than it emits, NASA finds

A new NASA-led study seven years in the making has confirmed that natural forests in the Amazon remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, therefore reducing global warming. This finding resolves a long-standing debate about a key component of the overall carbon balance of the Amazon basin.The Amazon’s carbon balance is a matter of life and death: living trees take carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow, and dead trees put the greenhouse gas back into the air as they decompose. The new study, published in Nature Communications on March 18, is the first to measure tree deaths caused by natural processes throughout the Amazon forest, even in remote areas where no data have been collected at ground level.Fernando Esprito-Santo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of the study, created new techniques to analyze satellite and other data. He found that each year, dead Amazonian trees emit an estimated 1.9 billion tons (1.7 billion metric tons) of carbon to the atmosphere. To compare this with Amazon carbon absorption, the researchers used censuses of forest growth and different modeling scenarios that accounted for uncertainties. In every scenario, carbon absorption by living trees outweighed emissions from the dead ones, indicating that the prevailing effect in natural forests of the Amazon is absorption.Until now, scientists had only been able to estimate the Amazon’s carbon balance from limited observations in small forest areas called plots. On these plots, the forest removes more carbon than it emits, but the scientific community has been vigorously debating how well the plots represent all the natural processes in the huge Amazon region. That debate began with the discovery in the 1990s that large areas of the forest can be killed off by intense storms in events called blowdowns.Esprito-Santo said that the idea for the study arose from a 2006 workshop where scientists from several nations came together to identify NASA satellite instruments that might help them better understand the carbon cycle of the Amazon. In the years since then, he worked with 21 coauthors in five nations to measure the carbon impacts of tree deaths in the Amazon from all natural causes — from large-area blowdowns to single trees that died of old age. He used airborne lidar data, satellite images, and a 10-year set of plot measurements collected by the University of Leeds, England, under the leadership of Emanuel Gloor and Oliver Phillips. …

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Harnessing everyday motion to power mobile devices

Imagine powering your cell phone by simply walking around your office or rubbing it with the palm of your hand. Rather than plugging it into the wall, you become the power source. Researchers at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) presented these commercial possibilities and a unique vision for green energy.The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features more than 10,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It is being held at the Dallas Convention Center and area hotels through Thursday.Zhong Lin Wang, Ph.D., and his team, including graduate student Long Lin who presented the work, have set out to transform the way we look at mechanical energy. Conventional energy sources have so far relied on century-old science that requires scattered, costly power plants and a grid to distribute electricity far and wide.”Today, coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants all use turbine-engine driven, electromagnetic-induction generators,” Wang explained. “For a hundred years, this has been the only way to convert mechanical energy into electricity.”But a couple of years ago, Wang’s team at the Georgia Institute of Technology was working on a miniature generator based on an energy phenomenon called the piezoelectric effect, which is electricity resulting from pressure. But to their surprise, it produced more power than expected. They investigated what caused the spike and discovered that two polymer surfaces in the device had rubbed together, producing what’s called a triboelectric effect — essentially what most of us know as static electricity.Building on that fortuitous discovery, Wang then developed the first triboelectric nanogenerator, or “TENG.” He paired two sheets of different materials together — one donates electrons, and the other accepts them. When the sheets touch, electrons flow from one to the other. When the sheets are separated, a voltage develops between them.Since his lab’s first publication on TENG in 2012, they have since boosted the power output density by a factor of 100,000, with the output power density reaching 300 Watts per square meter. …

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A battery that ‘breathes’ could power next-gen electric vehicles

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) nearly doubled in 2013, but most won’t take you farther than 100 miles on one charge. To boost their range toward a tantalizing 300 miles or more, researchers are reporting new progress on a “breathing” battery that has the potential to one day replace the lithium-ion technology of today’s EVs. They presented their work at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas this week.”Lithium-air batteries are lightweight and deliver a large amount of electric energy,” said Nobuyuki Imanishi, Ph.D. “Many people expect them to one day be used in electric vehicles.”The main difference between lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries is that the latter replaces the traditional cathode — a key battery component involved in the flow of electric current — with air. That makes the rechargeable metal-air battery lighter with the potential to pack in more energy than its commercial counterpart.While lithium-air batteries have been touted as an exciting technology to watch, they still have some kinks that need to be worked out. Researchers are forging ahead on multiple fronts to get the batteries in top form before they debut under the hood.One of the main components researchers are working on is the batteries’ electrolytes, materials that conduct electricity between the electrodes. There are currently four electrolyte designs, one of which involves water. The advantage of this “aqueous” design over the others is that it protects the lithium from interacting with gases in the atmosphere and enables fast reactions at the air electrode. The downside is that water in direct contact with lithium can damage it.Seeing the potential of the aqueous version of the lithium-air battery, Imanishi’s team at Mie University in Japan tackled this issue. Adding a protective material to the lithium metal is one approach, but this typically decreases the battery power. …

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Nanoscale optical switch breaks miniaturization barrier

An ultra-fast and ultra-small optical switch has been invented that could advance the day when photons replace electrons in the innards of consumer products ranging from cell phones to automobiles.The new optical device can turn on and off trillions of times per second. It consists of individual switches that are only one five-hundredths the width of a human hair (200 nanometers) in diameter. This size is much smaller than the current generation of optical switches and it easily breaks one of the major technical barriers to the spread of electronic devices that detect and control light: miniaturizing the size of ultrafast optical switches.The new device was developed by a team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Los Alamos National Laboratory and is described in the Mar. 12 issue of the journal Nano Letters.The ultrafast switch is made out of an artificial material engineered to have properties that are not found in nature. In this case, the “metamaterial” consists of nanoscale particles of vanadium dioxide (VO2) — a crystalline solid that can rapidly switch back and forth between an opaque, metallic phase and a transparent, semiconducting phase — which are deposited on a glass substrate and coated with a “nanomesh” of tiny gold nanoparticles.The scientists report that bathing these gilded nanoparticles with brief pulses from an ultrafast laser generates hot electrons in the gold nanomesh that jump into the vanadium dioxide and cause it to undergo its phase change in a few trillionths of a second.”We had previously triggered this transition in vanadium dioxide nanoparticles directly with lasers and we wanted to see if we could do it with electrons as well,” said Richard Haglund, Stevenson Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt, who led the study. “Not only does it work, but the injection of hot electrons from the gold nanoparticles also triggers the transformation with one fifth to one tenth as much energy input required by shining the laser directly on the bare VO2.”Both industry and government are investing heavily in efforts to integrate optics and electronics, because it is generally considered to be the next step in the evolution of information and communications technology. Intel, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have been building chips with increasing optical functionality for the last five years that operate at gigahertz speeds, one thousandth that of the VO2 switch.”Vanadium dioxide switches have a number of characteristics that make them ideal for optoelectronics applications,” said Haglund. In addition to their fast speed and small size, they:• Are completely compatible with current integrated circuit technology, both silicon-based chips and the new “high-K dielectric” materials that the semiconductor industry is developing to continue the miniaturization process that has been a major aspect of microelectronics technology development;• Operate in the visible and near-infrared region of the spectrum that is optimal for telecommunications applications;• Generate an amount of heat per operation that is low enough so that the switches can be packed tightly enough to make practical devices: about ten trillionths of a calorie (100 femtojoules) per bit.”Vanadium dioxide’s amazing properties have been known for more than half a century. At Vanderbilt, we have been studying VO2 nanoparticles for the last ten years, but the material has been remarkably successfully at resisting theoretical explanations,” said Haglund. “It is only in the last few years that intensive computational studies have illuminated the physics that underlies its semiconductor-to-metal transition.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. …

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A tale of two data sets: New DNA analysis strategy helps researchers cut through the dirt

For soil microbiology, it is the best of times. While no one has undertaken an accurate census, a spoonful of soil holds hundreds of billions of microbial cells, encompassing thousands of species. “It’s one of the most diverse microbial habitats on Earth, yet we know surprisingly little about the identities and functions of the microbes inhabiting soil,” said Jim Tiedje, Distinguished Professor at the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University. Tiedje, along with MSU colleagues and collaborators from the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), have published the largest soil DNA sequencing effort to date in the March 10, 2014, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). What has emerged in this first of the studies to come from this project is a simple, elegant solution to sifting through the deluge of information gleaned, as well as a sobering reality check on just how hard a challenge these environments will be.”The Great Prairie represents the largest expanse of the world’s most fertile soils, which makes it important as a reference site and for understanding the biological basis and ecosystem services of its microbial community,” said Tiedje. “It sequesters the most carbon of any soil system in the U.S. and produces large amounts of biomass annually, which is key for biofuels, food security, and carbon sequestration. It’s an ecosystem that parallels the large ocean gyres in its importance in the world’s primary productivity and biogeochemical cycles.”Since the release of the first human genome over a decade ago, the applications of DNA sequencing have been extended as a powerful diagnostic technique for gauging the health of the planet’s diverse ecological niches and their responsiveness to change. In this ambitious pilot study launched by the DOE JGI, MSU researchers sought to compare the microbial populations of different soils sampled from Midwestern corn fields, under continuous cultivation for 100 years, with those sourced from pristine expanses of the Great Prairie. …

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Soil microbes shift as shrubs invade remnant hill prairies

Perched high on the bluffs of the big river valleys in the Midwest are some of the last remnants of never-farmed prairie grasslands. These patches, edged by forest, are slowly being taken over by shrubs. A recent University of Illinois study examined the soil microbes on nine patches, also called “balds,” that had varying degrees of shrub invasion and found an interesting shift in the composition of the microbial community.”When we looked at the soil samples from a lightly encroached hill prairie remnant, it was very clear that there was a set of fungi that look like grassland fungi, a set of fungi that look like tree fungi, and the shrubs between the two have some features of both,” said U of I microbial ecologist Tony Yannarell. “As the degree of shrub encroachment increased, the amount of change in the fungal communities also increased, and as the degree of shrub encroachment increased, that shrub fungi joined the forest group to become one big woody community.”Yannarell said that on the balds that were completely encroached, the soil samples across the entire remnant were the same. “You get this shift toward woody fungal communities that mirror how much shrub density you have in the hill prairie,” he said.Yannarell said that forest and prairie microbial communities are always very different from each other even in this case where they are only a couple of meters apart. And because of the close proximity, with the same overall climate conditions and soil origin, they could rule out a lot of factors that would normally affect a change in microbial community structure.The microbes in the shrub soil tend to be different, but different parts of the microbial community change in relationship to the shrub, to the forest, to the prairie. The shrub bacteria are more like what they found in open prairie than in the forest. But the shrub fungi looked a lot more like the forest fungi.”We think what we found is the signature of these early changes, these early shifts of microbial communities toward a woody fungal community,” Yannarell said. “This first study only reveals one side of the change. We think we can firmly conclude that there are some woody, plant-liking fungi. …

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Fish species unique to Hawaii dominate deep coral reefs in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Deep coral reefs in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) may contain the highest percentage of fish species found nowhere else on Earth, according to a study by NOAA scientists published in the Bulletin of Marine Science. Part of the largest protected area in the United States, the islands, atolls and submerged habitats of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) harbor unprecedented levels of biological diversity, underscoring the value in protecting this area, scientists said.Hawaii is known for its high abundance of endemic species — that is, species not found anywhere else on Earth. Previous studies, based on scuba surveys in water less than 100 feet, determined that on average 21 percent of coral reef fish species in Hawaii are unique to the Hawaiian Archipelago.However, in waters 100 to 300 feet deep, nearly 50 percent of the fish scientists observed over a two-year period in the monument were unique to Hawaii, a level higher than any other marine ecosystem in the world. The study also found that on some of PMNM’s deeper reefs, more than 90 percent of fish were unique to the region. These habitats can only be accessed by highly trained divers using advanced technical diving methods.”The richness of unique species in the NWHI validates the need to protect this area with the highest conservation measures available,” said Randy Kosaki, PMNM’s deputy superintendent and co-author of the study. “These findings also highlight the need for further survey work on the monument’s deeper reefs, ecosystems that remain largely unexplored.”Data for the study was collected during two research expeditions to the NWHI aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai in the summers of 2010 and 2012. Some of the unique fish species that were observed include: Redtail Wrasse (Anampses chrysocephalus), Thompson’s Anthias (Pseudanthias thompsoni), Potter’s Angelfish (Centropyge potteri), Hawaiian Squirrelfish (Sargocentron xantherythrum), Chocolate Dip Chromis (Chromis hanui), Masked Angelfish (Genicanthus personatus), and Blueline Butterflyfish (Chaetodon fremblii).Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by NOAA Headquarters. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Older adults: Build muscle and you’ll live longer

New UCLA research suggests that the more muscle mass older Americans have, the less likely they are to die prematurely. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition — and not the widely used body mass index, or BMI — is a better predictor of all-cause mortality.The study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, is the culmination of previous UCLA research led by Dr. Preethi Srikanthan, an assistant clinical professor in the endocrinology division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, that found that building muscle mass is important in decreasing metabolic risk.”As there is no gold-standard measure of body composition, several studies have addressed this question using different measurement techniques and have obtained different results,” Srikanthan said. “So many studies on the mortality impact of obesity focus on BMI. Our study indicates that clinicians need to be focusing on ways to improve body composition, rather than on BMI alone, when counseling older adults on preventative health behaviors.”The researchers analyzed data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, conducted between 1988 and 1994. They focused on a group of 3,659 individuals that included men who were 55 or older and women who were 65 or older at the time of the survey. The authors then determined how many of those individuals had died from natural causes based on a follow-up survey done in 2004.The body composition of the study subjects was measured using bioelectrical impedance, which involves running an electrical current through the body. Muscle allows the current to pass more easily than fat does, due to muscle’s water content. In this way, the researchers could determine a muscle mass index — the amount of muscle relative to height — similar to a body mass index. They looked at how this muscle mass index was related to the risk of death. …

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Diets high in animal protein may help prevent functional decline in elderly individuals

A diet high in protein, particularly animal protein, may help elderly individuals maintain a higher level of physical, psychological, and social function according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.Due to increasing life expectancies in many countries, increasing numbers of elderly people are living with functional decline, such as declines in cognitive ability and activities of daily living. This can have profound effects on the health and well-being of older adults and their caregivers, as well as on health care resources.Research suggests that as people age, their ability to absorb or process protein may decline. To compensate for this loss, protein requirements may increase with age. Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and her colleagues in Tohoku University and Teikyo University, Japan, wondered whether protein intake might affect the functional capabilities of older adults. They designed a study to investigate the relationship between protein intake and future decline in higher-level functional capacity in older community-dwelling adults in Japan. Their analysis included 1,007 individuals with an average age of 67.4 years who completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. Participants were divided into four groups (quartiles) according to their intake levels of total, animal, and plant protein. Tests of higher-level functional capacity included social and intellectual aspects as well as measures related to activities of daily living.Men in the highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. These associations were not seen in women. No consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.”Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living,” said Dr. …

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

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

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National U.S. study reveals how urban lawn care habits vary

What do people living in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have in common? From coast to coast, prairie to desert — residential lawns reign.But, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, beneath this sea of green lie unexpected differences in fertilization and irrigation practices. Understanding urban lawn care is vital to sustainability planning, more than 80% of Americans live in cities and their suburbs, and these numbers continue to grow.The study was undertaken to test “the homogenization hypothesis.” Peter Groffman, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper’s authors explains, “Neighborhoods in very different parts of the country look remarkably alike, from lawns and roads to water features. This study is the first to test if urbanization produces similar land management behaviors, independent of the local environment.”Some 9,500 residents in the six study cities were queried about their lawn care habits. The research team, led by Colin Polsky of Clark University and colleagues at 10 other institutions, took into account differences in climate and neighborhood socioeconomics, both within and between cities. A focus was put on fertilization and irrigation, practices with potentially hefty environmental price tags.Fertilizer is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. This stimulates lawn growth, but when fertilizer washes into waterways, it causes algal blooms that degrade water quality and rob oxygen from fish and other aquatic life. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of residential water use nationwide.Some 79% of surveyed residents watered their lawns and 64% applied fertilizer. Groffman comments, “These numbers are important when we bear in mind that lawns cover more land in the United States than any other irrigated crop. …

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Outside the body our memories fail us

New research from Karolinska Institutet and Ume University demonstrates for the first time that there is a close relationship between body perception and the ability to remember. For us to be able to store new memories from our lives, we need to feel that we are in our own body. According to researchers, the results could be of major importance in understanding the memory problems that psychiatric patients often exhibit.The memories of what happened on the first day of school are an example of an episodic memory. How these memories are created and how the role that the perception of one’s own body has when storing memories has long been inconclusive. Swedish researchers can now demonstrate that volunteers who experience an exciting event whilst perceiving an illusion of being outside their own body exhibit a form of memory loss.”It is already evident that people who have suffered psychiatric conditions in which they felt that they were not in their own body have fragmentary memories of what actually occurred,” says Loretxu Bergouignan, principal author of the current study. “We wanted to see how this manifests itself in healthy subjects.”The study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved a total of 84 students reading about and undergoing four oral questioning sessions. To make these sessions extra memorable, an actor (Peter Bergared) took up the role of examiner — a (fictional) very eccentric professor at Karolinska Institutet. Two of the interrogations were perceived from a first person perspective from their own bodies in the usual way, while the participants in the other two sessions experienced a created illusion of being outside their own body. In both cases, the participants wore virtual reality goggles and earphones. One week later, they either underwent memory testing where they had to recall the events and provide details about what had happened, in which order, and what they felt, or they had to try to remember the events while they underwent brain imaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).It then turned out that the participants remembered the ‘out-of-body’ interrogations significantly worse than those experienced from the normal “In body” perspective. …

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Volcanoes helped species survive ice ages

An international team of researchers has found evidence that the steam and heat from volcanoes and heated rocks allowed many species of plants and animals to survive past ice ages, helping scientists understand how species respond to climate change.The research could solve a long-running mystery about how some species survived and continued to evolve through past ice ages in parts of the planet covered by glaciers.The team, led by Dr Ceridwen Fraser from the Australian National University and Dr Aleks Terauds from the Australian Antarctic Division, studied tens of thousands of records of Antarctic species, collected over decades by hundreds of researchers, and found there are more species close to volcanoes, and fewer further away.”Volcanic steam can melt large ice caves under the glaciers, and it can be tens of degrees warmer in there than outside. Caves and warm steam fields would have been great places for species to hang out during ice ages,” Dr Fraser said.”We can learn a lot from looking at the impacts of past climate change as we try to deal with the accelerated change that humans are now causing.”While the study was based on Antarctica, the findings help scientists understand how species survived past ice ages in other icy regions, including in periods when it is thought there was little or no ice-free land on the planet.Antarctica has at least 16 volcanoes which have been active since the last ice age 20,000 years ago.The study examined diversity patterns of mosses, lichens and bugs which are still common in Antarctica today.Professor Peter Convey from the British Antarctic Survey said around 60 per cent of Antarctic invertebrate species are found nowhere else in the world.”They have clearly not arrived on the continent recently, but must have been there for millions of years. How they survived past ice ages — the most recent of which ended less than 20,000 years ago — has long puzzled scientists,” Professor Convey said.Dr Terauds of the Australian Antarctic Division ran the analyses, and says the patterns are striking.”The closer you get to volcanoes, the more species you find. This pattern supports our hypothesis that species have been expanding their ranges and gradually moving out from volcanic areas since the last ice age,” Dr Terauds said.Professor Steven Chown, from Monash University, says the research findings could help guide conservation efforts in Antarctica.”Knowing where the ‘hotspots’ of diversity are will help us to protect them as human-induced environmental changes continue to affect Antarctica,” Professor Chown said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Australian National University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Some characteristics increase the likelihood of getting married and living together

When it comes to romantic relationships, attributes such as health, kindness, and social status have been shown to be important qualities in choosing a partner. It may be surprising to learn, however, that certain personal traits predispose a person towards either getting married or forming a cohabitating relationship.According to a study recently published in the journal Social Science Research, scoring high on attractiveness, personality, and grooming is associated with a greater probability of entering into a marital relationship for both men and women, but it does not collectively have a significant influence on entering a romantic cohabitating relationship.The findings suggest that individuals consider multiple personal characteristics when seeking a long-term partner. Under this scenario, what one finds lacking in a specific area could be overcome with strength in another area.”The findings highlight that Aristotle’s famous quote ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts’ is pertinent when it comes to personal characteristics and marital arrangements,” says Michael T. French, a professor of Health Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami (UM), and corresponding author of this study.The study accounts for cohabitation and marriage as competing events in contrast to being single and living without a romantic partner. The project examines three possible outcomes: marriage with or without prior cohabitation, cohabitation without subsequently getting married, and neither marriage nor cohabitation.The results show that 52 percent of married respondents and 51.7 percent of those in cohabiting relationships ending in marriage were rated as above average in physical attractiveness, whereas 45.9 percent of those in a cohabitating relationship without subsequent marriage and 43.6 percent in neither marriage nor cohabitation scored above average on the attractiveness scale. Similar results were found for personality and grooming.Other interesting findings from the study include the following:Women with above average grooming are less likely to cohabit without subsequent marriage. For men, having an above average personality has the strongest association with the likelihood of getting married. Men with above average physical attractiveness have a greater chance of cohabitation without subsequent marriage. “Thus, we have the somewhat curious finding that men with above average looks tend to be more likely to cohabit, while men with above average personalities tend to be more likely to marry (but less likely to cohabit),” the study explains.The study is titled “Personal traits, cohabitation, and marriage.” Co-authors are Ioana Popovici, assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University; Philip K. Robins, professor, School of Business Administration at UM, and Jenny F. …

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‘Death stars’ in Orion blast planets before they even form

The Orion Nebula is home to hundreds of young stars and even younger protostars known as proplyds. Many of these nascent systems will go on to develop planets, while others will have their planet-forming dust and gas blasted away by the fierce ultraviolet radiation emitted by massive O-type stars that lurk nearby.A team of astronomers from Canada and the United States has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the often deadly relationship between highly luminous O-type stars and nearby protostars in the Orion Nebula. Their data reveal that protostars within 0.1 light-years (about 600 billion miles) of an O-type star are doomed to have their cocoons of dust and gas stripped away in just a few millions years, much faster than planets are able to form.”O-type stars, which are really monsters compared to our Sun, emit tremendous amounts of ultraviolet radiation and this can play havoc during the development of young planetary systems,” remarked Rita Mann, an astronomer with the National Research Council of Canada in Victoria, and lead author on a paper in the Astrophysical Journal. “Using ALMA, we looked at dozens of embryonic stars with planet-forming potential and, for the first time, found clear indications where protoplanetary disks simply vanished under the intense glow of a neighboring massive star.”Many, if not all, Sun-like stars are born in crowded stellar nurseries similar to the Orion Nebula. Over the course of just a few million years, grains of dust and reservoirs of gas combine into larger, denser bodies. Left relatively undisturbed, these systems will eventually evolve into fully fledged star systems, with planets — large and small — and ultimately drift away to become part of the galactic stellar population.Astronomers believe that massive yet short-lived stars in and around large interstellar clouds are essential for this ongoing process of star formation. At the end of their lives, massive stars explode as supernovas, seeding the surrounding area with dust and heavy elements that will get taken up in the next generation of stars. These explosions also provide the kick necessary to initiate a new round of star and planet formation. But while they still shine bright, these larger stars can be downright deadly to planets if an embryonic solar systems strays too close.”Massive stars are hot and hundreds of times more luminous than our Sun,” said James Di Francesco, also with the National Research Council of Canada. “Their energetic photons can quickly deplete a nearby protoplanetary disk by heating up its gas, breaking it up, and sweeping it away.”Earlier observations with the Hubble Space Telescope revealed striking images of proplyds in Orion. …

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Squeezing light into metals: Engineers control conductivity with inkjet printer

Using an inexpensive inkjet printer, University of Utah electrical engineers produced microscopic structures that use light in metals to carry information. This new technique, which controls electrical conductivity within such microstructures, could be used to rapidly fabricate superfast components in electronic devices, make wireless technology faster or print magnetic materials.The study appears online March 7 in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.High-speed Internet and other data-transfer techniques rely on light transported through optical fibers with very high bandwidth, which is a measure of how fast data can be transferred. Shrinking these fibers allows more data to be packed into less space, but there’s a catch: optical fibers hit a limit on how much data they can carry as light is squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces.In contrast, electronic circuits can be fashioned at much smaller sizes on silicon wafers. However, electronic data transfer operates at frequencies with much lower bandwidth, reducing the amount of data that can be carried.A recently discovered technology called plasmonics marries the best aspects of optical and electronic data transfer. By crowding light into metal structures with dimensions far smaller than its wavelength, data can be transmitted at much higher frequencies such as terahertz frequencies, which lie between microwaves and infrared light on the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that also includes everything from X-rays to visible light to gamma rays. Metals such as silver and gold are particularly promising plasmonic materials because they enhance this crowding effect. “Very little well-developed technology exists to create terahertz plasmonic devices, which have the potential to make wireless devices such as Bluetooth — which operates at 2.4 gigahertz frequency — 1,000 times faster than they are today,” says Ajay Nahata, a University of Utah professor of electrical and computer engineering and senior author of the new study.Using a commercially available inkjet printer and two different color cartridges filled with silver and carbon ink, Nahata and his colleagues printed 10 different plasmonic structures with a periodic array of 2,500 holes with different sizes and spacing on a 2.5-inch-by-2.5 inch plastic sheet.The four arrays tested had holes 450 microns in diameter — about four times the width of a human hair — and spaced one-25th of an inch apart. Depending on the relative amounts of silver and carbon ink used, the researchers could control the plasmonic array’s electrical conductivity, or how efficient it was in carrying an electrical current.”Using a $60 inkjet printer, we have developed a low-cost, widely applicable way to make plasmonic materials,” Nahata says. “Because we can draw and print these structures exactly as we want them, our technique lets you make rapid changes to the plasmonic properties of the metal, without the million-dollar instrumentation typically used to fabricate these structures.”Plasmonic arrays are currently made using microfabrication techniques that require expensive equipment and manufacture only one array at a time. Until now, controlling conductivity in these arrays has proven extremely difficult for researchers.Nahata and his co-workers at the University of Utah’s College of Engineering used terahertz imaging to measure the effect of printed plasmonic arrays on a beam of light. …

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Research on 3D scaffolds sets new bar in lung regeneration

In end-stage lung disease, transplantation is sometimes the only viable therapeutic option, but organ availability is limited and rejection presents an additional challenge. Innovative research efforts in the field of tissue regeneration, including pioneering discoveries by University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues, hold promise for this population, which includes an estimated 12.7 million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the U.S.In the past year alone, Weiss and colleagues published four articles in Biomaterials, the leading bioengineering journal, as well as two March 2014 articles by first author Darcy Wagner, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow working in Weiss’ lab, reporting their development of new methods and techniques for engineering lungs for patients with COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.Weiss and his team’s work focuses on lung tissue bioengineering, which involves the use of a scaffold — or framework — of lungs from human cadavers to engineer new lungs for patients with end-stage disease. Their studies have examined multiple perspectives on the process of stripping the cellular material from these lungs — called decellularizing — and replacing it with stem cells (recellularization), in an effort to grow new, healthy lungs for transplantation.Working in animal and human models, Wagner, Weiss and colleagues have addressed numerous challenges faced during the lung tissue bioengineering process, such as the storage and sterilization of decellularized cadaveric scaffolds and the impact of the age and disease state of donor lungs on these processes.In one of the latest Biomaterials studies, the researchers report on novel techniques that increase the ability to perform high-throughput studies of human lungs.”It’s expensive and difficult to repopulate an entire human lung at one time, and, unlike in mouse models, this doesn’t readily allow the study of multiple conditions, such as cell types, growth factors, and environmental influences like mechanical stretch — normal breathing motions — that will all affect successful lung recellularization,” explains Weiss.To address this, Wagner developed a technique to dissect out and recellularize multiple, small segments in a biological/physiological manner that would take into consideration the appropriate three-dimensional interaction of blood vessels with the lung’s airways and air sacs.Working with biomaterials scientist Rachel Oldinski, Ph.D., UVM assistant professor of engineering, they further developed a new method using a nontoxic, natural polymer derived from seaweed to use as a coating for each lung segment prior to recellularization. This process allowed the team to selectively inject new stem cells into the small decellularized lung segments while preserving vascular and airway channels. Use of this technique, which resulted in a higher retention of human stem cells in both porcine (pig) and human scaffolds, allows the small lung segments to be ventilated for use in the study of stretch effects on stem cell differentiation.”The ability to perform numerous experiments and screen multiple conditions from a single decellularized human lung provides an avenue to accelerate progress towards the eventual goal of regenerating functional lung tissue for transplantation,” says Wagner.Through another novel technique — thermography or thermal imaging — Wagner and colleagues developed a non-invasive and non-destructive means for monitoring the lung scaffolds’ integrity and physiologic attributes in real-time during the decellularization process. According to Wagner, this method could be used as a first step in evaluating whether the lungs and eventual scaffolds are suitable for recellularization and transplantation.The development of these new techniques are “a significant step forward” in the field of lung regeneration, say Wagner and her coauthors.This study and Weiss’ and Wagner’s related publications over the past 15 months showcase the positive impact of the $4.26 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Opportunity for Research grant Weiss received in October 2010 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. In addition to these scientific accomplishments, he’s forged strong industry ties, as well, and has several patents pending.”This work serves as a core for helping develop a robust bioengineering effort to parallel ongoing stem cell activities in the Department of Medicine and for fostering increasing collaborative efforts between the Colleges of Medicine and Engineering,” says Weiss.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Vermont. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Look back at US soybeans shows genetic improvement behind increased yields

Soybean improvement through plant breeding has been critical over the years for the success of the crop. In a new study that traces the genetic changes in varieties over the last 80 years of soybean breeding, researchers concluded that increases in yield gains and an increased rate of gains over the years are largely due to the continual release of greater-yielding cultivars by breeders.”This research in some ways looks back and informs us how soybean varieties have changed. It’s useful to document these traits and changes,” said Brian Diers, a University of Illinois plant breeder and researcher on the study. “We can show that we really have been successful at increasing yield.”But this study is also about the future of the soybean crop.”The study has actually created quite a lot of interest among soybean breeders because they want to understand what’s happened, and when we look at physiological traits, we can see what has been changed. This gives us clues about what traits we should focus on in breeding for future increases based what has been inadvertently changed over time as we have selected for yield,” he said.Diers and a multi-institutional team of researchers evaluated historic sets of 60 maturity group (MG) II, 59 MG III, and 49 MG IV soybean varieties, released from 1923 to 2008, in field trials conducted in 17 states and one Canadian province during 2010 to 2011.The experiments included plant introductions (PIs) and public cultivars obtained from the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection housed at the National Soybean Research Center at the U of I, as well as from varieties provided by Monsanto, Pioneer, and Syngenta.In the process of documenting the genetic changes, the researchers observed an increase in yields over the past 80 years that is equivalent to one-third of a bushel per acre per year increase.Diers said that the researchers estimated that about two-thirds of the yield increases in farmer’s fields are due to new varieties that breeders have introduced with the other third due to other reasons such as improved agronomic practices.”When we compare old varieties to new varieties, the new varieties do yield much better than the old varieties. When we look at the data more closely, the yield increases have actually accelerated starting in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s different for each maturity group, but current yield increases are greater than they were earlier,” Diers said.This research also showed that when compared to old varieties, plants in the new varieties are shorter in height, mature later, lodge less, and have seeds with less protein and greater oil concentration.”The new varieties tend to mature later within these maturity groups, which is something that theoretically shouldn’t happen because we classify these varieties based on when they mature. So theoretically MG II varieties should mature at the same time now as one back in the 1970s, but this is not the case,” Diers said. “Probably over time, people have been selecting varieties that are a little bit later and later, and these changes have accumulated. In some ways, it’s not a bad thing, because farmers are planting earlier than they did back in the 1970s so they actually need varieties that will mature later than back then. …

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