Northern and southern hemisphere climates follow the beat of different drummers

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

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Quality early childhood programs help prevent adult chronic disease, research shows

High-quality early childhood development programs with health care and nutritional components can help prevent or delay the onset of adult chronic disease, according to a new study by Nobel laureate economist James Heckman and researchers at the University of Chicago, University College London and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina.Based on more than three decades of data from the landmark Abecedarian early childhood program in North Carolina, the study shows that children who participated in the intervention combining early education with early health screenings and nutrition had much lower levels of hypertension, metabolic syndrome and obesity in their mid-30s than a control group that did not participate in early learning program. The results are published in the March 28 issue of the journal Science.”Prior to this research, we had indications that quality early childhood development programs helped produce better health later in life,” said Heckman. “Abecedarian shows that investing in early learning programs that offer health components can boost education, health and economic outcomes. It also offers a different way to fight costly adult chronic diseases: Investing early in the development of children to build the knowledge and self-regulation necessary to prevent chronic disease and help them lead healthy, productive lives.”The Carolina Abecedarian Project, one of the oldest and most cited early childhood programs, was designed to test whether a stimulating early childhood environment could prevent developmental delays among disadvantaged children. The study involved 111 children from low-income families, born in or near Chapel Hill, N.C. between 1972 and 1977. It also included a health care and nutritional component. Children received two meals and an afternoon snack at an early learning center and were offered daily health screenings and periodic medical checkups. Participants who received this intervention, as well as those in the control group who did not, have been followed for more than 30 years to determine the effectiveness of the early intervention program.This is the first time their health outcomes have been analyzed. Researchers found that men in the treatment group had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and were less likely to develop Stage I hypertension. …

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Dynamics behind Arctic ecosystems revealed

Species such as the musk ox, Arctic fox and lemming live in the harsh, cold and deserted tundra environment. However, they have often been in the spotlight when researchers have studied the impact of a warmer climate on the countryside in the north. Until now, the focus has been concentrated on individual species, but an international team of biologists has now published an important study of entire food-web dynamics in the journal Nature Climate Change. Field studies covering three continents show that temperature has an unexpectedly important effect on food-web structure, while the relationship between predator and prey is crucial for the food-web dynamics and thereby the entire ecosystem.Temperature is decisive’We have gathered data on all animals and plants characterising the arctic tundra in seven different areas. This has allowed us to generate a picture of how food chains vary over a very large geographical (and, with it, climatic) gradient. Therefore, and for the first time, we can offer an explanation of the factors governing the tundra as an ecosystem,’ says Niels Martin Schmidt from Aarhus University, Denmark, one of the researchers behind the study. The researchers have evidenced that temperature is of decisive importance for which elements form part of the food chain, thus permitting them to predict how climate changes may impact whole food chains — and not just the conditions for the individual species.The largest avoids being eatenTemperature regulates which organisms interact with each other in the far north arctic nature. However, the present study also shows that predation, i.e. the interactions between predators and prey, is the factor regulating the energy flows in ecosystems and, with that, the function of the ecosystem.’Our results show that predators are the most important items of the tundra food chains, except in the High Arctic. The intensity varies with the body size of the herbivores (plant eaters) of the chains. …

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Climatologists offer explanation for widening of Earth’s tropical belt

Recent studies have shown that Earth’s tropical belt — demarcated, roughly, by the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn — has progressively expanded since at least the late 1970s. Several explanations for this widening have been proposed, such as radiative forcing due to greenhouse gas increase and stratospheric ozone depletion.Now, a team of climatologists, led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, posits that the recent widening of the tropical belt is primarily caused by multi-decadal sea surface temperature variability in the Pacific Ocean. This variability includes the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a long-lived El Nio-like pattern of Pacific climate variability that works like a switch every 30 years or so between two different circulation patterns in the North Pacific Ocean. It also includes, the researchers say, anthropogenic pollutants, which act to modify the PDO.Study results appear March 16 in Nature Geoscience.”Prior analyses have found that climate models underestimate the observed rate of tropical widening, leading to questions on possible model deficiencies, possible errors in the observations, and lack of confidence in future projections,” said Robert J. Allen, an assistant professor of climatology in UC Riverside’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the study. “Furthermore, there has been no clear explanation for what is driving the widening.”Now Allen’s team has found that the recent tropical widening is largely driven by the PDO.”Although this widening is considered a ‘natural’ mode of climate variability, implying tropical widening is primarily driven by internal dynamics of the climate system, we also show that anthropogenic pollutants have driven trends in the PDO,” Allen said. “Thus, tropical widening is related to both the PDO and anthropogenic pollutants.”Widening concernsTropical widening is associated with several significant changes in our climate, including shifts in large-scale atmospheric circulation, like storm tracks, and major climate zones. For example, in Southern California, tropical widening may be associated with less precipitation.Of particular concern are the semi-arid regions poleward of the subtropical dry belts, including the Mediterranean, the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, southern Australia, southern Africa, and parts of South America. A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to these heavily populated regions, but may bring increased moisture to other areas.Widening of the tropics would also probably be associated with poleward movement of major extratropical climate zones due to changes in the position of jet streams, storm tracks, mean position of high and low pressure systems, and associated precipitation regimes. An increase in the width of the tropics could increase the area affected by tropical storms (hurricanes), or could change climatological tropical cyclone development regions and tracks.Belt contractionAllen’s research team also showed that prior to the recent (since ~1980 onwards) tropical widening, the tropical belt actually contracted for several decades, consistent with the reversal of the PDO during this earlier time period.”The reversal of the PDO, in turn, may be related to the global increase in anthropogenic pollutant emissions prior to the ~ early 1980s,” Allen said.AnalysisAllen’s team analyzed IPCC AR5 (5th Assessment Report) climate models, several observational and reanalysis data sets, and conducted their own climate model experiments to quantify tropical widening, and to isolate the main cause.”When we analyzed IPCC climate model experiments driven with the time-evolution of observed sea surface temperatures, we found much larger rates of tropical widening, in better agreement to the observed rate–particularly in the Northern Hemisphere,” Allen said. …

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Reintroduction experiments give new hope for plant on brink of extinction

A critically endangered plant known as marsh sandwort (Arenaria paludicola) is inching back from the brink of extinction thanks to the efforts of a UC Santa Cruz plant ecologist and her team of undergraduate students.Ingrid Parker, the Langenheim professor of plant ecology and evolution at UC Santa Cruz, got involved in the marsh sandwort recovery effort at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Although it used to occur all along the west coast, from San Diego to Washington state, this wetland plant with delicate white flowers had dwindled to one population in a boggy wetland in San Luis Obispo County. Federal biologists wanted to reintroduce the plant to other locations, but they weren’t sure where it would be likely to thrive.”When you have a species that’s only known from one place, how do you figure out where it could live? We had very little information about its biology that would allow us to predict where it might be successful,” Parker said.Her team, which included undergraduate students and greenhouse staff at UCSC as well as USFWS biologists, propagated cuttings from the last remaining wild population, studied the plant’s tolerance for different soil conditions in greenhouse experiments, and conducted field experiments to identify habitats where the plant could thrive. They published their findings in the April issue of Plant Ecology (available in advance online).Surprisingly, the plants tolerated a much wider range of soil moisture and salinity than biologists had expected. “This really brought home to me the importance of experiments to help guide conservation,” Parker said. “The one place where this species is found in San Luis Obispo County is a freshwater bog where the plants are in standing water. There are so few places like that left in California, we wondered if that’s the only kind of place where it can grow. Instead we found that it actually does better without standing water.”In addition, field studies showed the importance of small-scale habitat variations, according to first author Megan Bontrager. …

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Do elephants call ‘human!’? Low rumble alarm call in response to the sound of human voices

African elephants make a specific alarm call in response to the danger of humans, according to a new study of wild elephants in Kenya.Researchers from Oxford University, Save the Elephants, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom carried out a series of audio experiments in which recordings of the voices of the Samburu, a local tribe from North Kenya, were played to resting elephants. The elephants quickly reacted, becoming more vigilant and running away from the sound whilst emitting a distinctive low rumble.When the team, having recorded this rumble, played it back to a group of elephants they reacted in a similar way to the sound of the Samburu voices; running away and becoming very vigilant, perhaps searching for the potentially lethal threat of human hunters.The new research, recently reported in PLOS ONE, builds on previous Oxford University research showing that elephants call ‘bee-ware’ and run away from the sound of angry bees. Whilst the ‘bee’ and ‘human’ rumbling alarm calls might sound similar to our ears there are important differences at low (infrasonic) frequencies that elephants can hear but humans can’t.’Elephants appear to be able to manipulate their vocal tract (mouth, tongue, trunk and so on) to shape the sounds of their rumbles to make different alarm calls,’ said Dr Lucy King of Save the Elephants and Oxford University who led the study with Dr Joseph Soltis, a bioacoustics expert from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and colleagues.’We concede the possibility that these alarm calls are simply a by-product of elephants running away, that is, just an emotional response to the threat that other elephants pick up on,’ Lucy tells me. ‘On the other hand, we think it is also possible that the rumble alarms are akin to words in human language, and that elephants voluntarily and purposefully make those alarm calls to warn others about specific threats. Our research results here show that African elephant alarm calls can differentiate between two types of threat and reflect the level of urgency of that threat.’Elephant ‘human’ alarm call rumbleSignificantly, the reaction to the human alarm call included none of the head-shaking behaviour displayed by elephants hearing the bee alarm. When threatened by bees elephants shake their heads in an effort to knock the insects away as well as running — despite their thick hides adult elephants can be stung around their eyes or up their trunks, whilst calves could potentially be killed by a swarm of stinging bees as they have yet to develop a thick protective skin.Lucy explains: ‘Interestingly, the acoustic analysis done by Joseph Soltis at his Disney laboratory showed that the difference between the ”bee alarm rumble” and the ”human alarm rumble” is the same as a vowel-change in human language, which can change the meaning of words (think of ”boo” and ”bee”). Elephants use similar vowel-like changes in their rumbles to differentiate the type of threat they experience, and so give specific warnings to other elephants who can decipher the sounds.’This collaborative research on how elephants react to and communicate about honeybees and humans is being used to reduce human-elephant conflict in Kenya. Armed with the knowledge that elephants are afraid of bees, Lucy and Save the Elephants have built scores of ‘beehive fences’ around local farms that protect precious fields from crop-raiding elephants.’In this way, local farmers can protect their families and livelihoods without direct conflict with elephants, and they can harvest the honey too for extra income,’ says Lucy. ‘Learning more about how elephants react to threats such as bees and humans will help us design strategies to reduce human-elephant conflict and protect people and elephants.’Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. The original article was written by Pete Wilton. …

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Food production in northeastern U.S. may need to change if climate does

If significant climate change occurs in the United States it may be necessary to change where certain foods are produced in order to meet consumer demand. In a paper published online this week in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University provide an overview of current farmland use and food production in the Northeastern U.S., identifying potential vulnerabilities of the 12-state region.Led by Tim Griffin, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School, the authors evaluated the degree to which the Northeast can satisfy the food needs of its residents, a concept known as regional self-reliance. Their results are based on calculations of regional agricultural land use and production between 2001 and 2010. In that time, over 100 crops were harvested and livestock production involved all six major species. The authors’ estimates also include fish and shellfish.”Food production in the United States is concentrated in certain areas, but it is important to explore the ability of all regions to produce food. This is certainly the case in the Northeast, which has both a high population density and a declining agricultural land base,” Griffin said. “For example, most of the country’s pork products come from Iowa and North Carolina, and most of the lettuce is grown in California’s Salinas Valley. Looking ahead, there is the potential for climate change to disrupt food production in those key areas. If irrigation in the Central Valley of California was reduced due to climate change, could other regions make up for that drop in production? And what is the capacity of the Northeast region to produce more?”Griffin and colleagues noted substantial diversity in the Northeast food system, for crops in particular. …

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Sauces and marinades address consumers’ desire for ethnic flavors

Sauces and marinades are an easy way for consumers cooking at home to infuse distinctive flavors into all kinds of different foods. In the February issue of Food Technology magazine published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), Contributing Writer David Despain writes about new consumer trends and the growing interest in international/ethnic flavor preferences regarding sauces and marinades.A new Mintel report titled “Cooking Sauces, Marinades, and Dressings — U.S.” says the market reached a total of $7.4 billion in 2013 and is expected to reach $9.1 billion by 2018. Consumers poled in the report showed an interest in international/ethic, exotic, spicy/hot, and authentic regional flavors. Also trending in marinades and sauces is the need for transparency, consumers want to know how authentic their products are and what ingredients are in them. Clean label texturizers are on the rise to provide sauces with a rich appearance, smooth texture, and creamy mouthfeel without compromising shelf-life stability.Mark MacKenzie, Managing Director with Passage Foods, North America says the key drivers of new regionally inspired products, like Vietnamese, Malay, Indonesia (instead of just Asian) are due to younger generations more adventurous food tastes. These consumers, mainly ages 22 to 34, are eating out at ethnic restaurants, watching food and travel shows on TV, and are interested in diversifying the way they cook and eat. Home cooks looking to expand their weeknight dishes to include flavors inspired by restaurant dishes and global food trends can now find slow-cooker sauces, classic American sauces infused with ethnic flavors, and ready-to-use simmer sauces in stores.Read the full Food Technology article at http://www.ift.org/food-technology/past-issues/2014/february/features/sauces-marinades.aspxStory Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Environmental impact of Ontario corn production assessed

Researchers at the University of Guelph examined the energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with corn production in Ontario. Their findings are published today in the Agricultural Institute of Canada’s (AIC) Canadian Journal of Soil Science.The study reports estimated county-level energy and GHG intensity of grain corn, stover and cob production in Ontario from 2006-2011. According to the paper’s authors, most of the energy used during corn production comes from the use of natural gas and electricity during grain drying; the production and application of nitrogen fertilizers (which are also associated with GHG emissions); and the use of diesel fuel during field work.”Corn is a major economic crop in North America, and the renewable fuels developed from corn production are frequently used to mitigate the GHG emissions from fossil fuel use,” explained Susantha Jayasundara, lead author of the paper.”Assessing the GHG and energy intensity of corn production helps identify opportunities for efficiency and aids in improving the GHG mitigation potential of corn-derived renewable fuels,” continued Jayasundara. The authors note that reducing GHG intensity and improving energy efficiency during corn production can be achieved through the use of field-drying corn hybrids, reduced tillage and diminished nitrogen inputs.The article, “Energy and Greenhouse Gas Intensity of Corn (Zea Mays L.) in Ontario: A regional assessment,” by Susantha Jayasundara, Claudia Wagner-Riddle, Goretty Dias and Kumudinie Kariyapperuma, is available Open Access in the Canadian Journal of Soil Science.”Given the environmental and economic benefits of renewable fuels and the proliferation of their use in Canada, it is important to more fully understand the environmental impacts of their associated agricultural production,” added Serge Buy, CEO of AIC. “Essential studies such as this are of national significance and are certainly evidence of the need for targeted federal investments in agricultural science.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Canadian Science Publishing (NRC Research Press). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Scientists find cell fate switch that decides liver, or pancreas?

Harvard stem cell scientists have a new theory for how stem cells decide whether to become liver or pancreatic cells during development. A cell’s fate, the researchers found, is determined by the nearby presence of prostaglandin E2, a messenger molecule best known for its role in inflammation and pain. The discovery, published in the journal Developmental Cell, could potentially make liver and pancreas cells easier to generate both in the lab and for future cell therapies.Wolfram Goessling, MD, PhD, and Trista North, PhD, both principal faculty members of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), identified a gradient of prostaglandin E2 in the region of zebrafish embryos where stem cells differentiate into the internal organs. Experiments conducted by postdoctoral fellow Sahar Nissim, MD, PhD, in the Goessling lab showed how liver-or-pancreas-fated stem cells have specific receptors on their membranes to detect the amount of prostaglandin E2 hormone present and coerce the cell into differentiating into a specific organ type.”Cells that see more prostaglandin become liver and the cells that see less prostaglandin become pancreas,” said Goessling, a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “This is the first time that prostaglandin is being reported as a factor that can lead this fate switch and essentially instruct what kind of identity a cell is going to be.”The researchers next collaborated with the laboratory of HSCI Affiliated Faculty member Richard Maas, MD, PhD, Director of the Genetics Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to see whether prostaglandin E2 has a similar function in mammals. Richard Sherwood, PhD, a former graduate student of HSCI Co-director Doug Melton, was successfully able to instruct mouse stem cells to become either liver or pancreas cells by exposing them to different amounts of the hormone. Other experiments showed that prostaglandin E2 could also enhance liver growth and regeneration of liver cells.Goessling and his research partner North, a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, first became intrigued by prostaglandin E2 in 2005, as postdoctoral fellows in the lab of HSCI Executive Committee Chair Leonard Zon, MD. It caught their attention during a chemical screen exposing 2,500 known drugs to zebrafish embryos to find any that could amplify blood stem cell populations. Prostaglandin E2 was the most successful hit — the first molecule discovered in any system to have such an effect — and recently successfully completed Phase 1b clinical trials as a therapeutic to improve cord blood transplants.”Prostaglandin might be a master regulator of cell growth in different organs,” Goessling said. “It’s used in cord blood, as we have shown, it works in the liver, and who knows what other organs might be affected by it.”With evidence of how prostaglandin E2 works in the liver, the researchers next want to calibrate how it can be used in the laboratory to instruct induced pluripotent stem cells — mature cells that have been reprogrammed into a stem-like state — to become liver or pancreas cells. …

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Genome of American Clovis skeleton mapped: Ancestor of most present-day Native American populations

They lived in America about 13,000 years ago where they hunted mammoth, mastodons and giant bison with big spears. The Clovis people were not the first humans in America, but they represent the first humans with a wide expansion on the North American continent — until the culture mysteriously disappeared only a few hundred years after its origin. Who the Clovis people were and which present day humans they are related to has been discussed intensely and the issue has a key role in the discussion about how the Americas were peopled. Today there exists only one human skeleton found in association with Clovis tools and at the same time it is among the oldest human skeletons in the Americas. It is a small boy between 1 and 1.5 years of age — found in a 12,600 old burial site, called the Anzick Site, in Wilsall, Montana, USA. Now an international team headed by Danish researcher Eske Willerslev has mapped his genome thereby reviving the scientific debate about the colonization of the Americas.Roughly estimated some 80 % of all present-day Native American populations on the two American continents are direct descendants of the Clovis boy’s family. The remaining 20 % are more closely related with the Clovis family than any other people on Earth, says Lundbeck Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen. This surprising result has now been published in the scientific journal Nature. The discovery is so decisive that Nature has chosen to send the article to the press at a later time than usual as they fear the media embargo may be broken. A comprehensive international telephone press conference has been arranged and will be held in the Crow tribe’s reservation in Montana — close to where the boy was found. …

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Growing impact of lethal ‘legal highs:’ U.K. Deaths report

The deadly risk of so-called ‘legal highs’ and other designer drugs, such as the notorious ‘meow meow’, has been confirmed by a huge leap in their links to drug-related deaths in the UK. One expert described experimentation with such drugs as ‘dancing in a minefield.”Meow meow’, officially known as mephedrone and now illegal, is just one of a group of drugs called Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which also includes the amphetamine-like substances Benzo Fury and PMA, amongst others.According to data published in the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) report, compiled by experts at St George’s, University of London, NPS are now linked to more drug-related deaths than ever before.The prevalence of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology tests submitted to the report has increased 800% in three years, from 12 in 2009 to 97 in 2012.The number of cases where NPS were identified as the cause of death rose by almost 600% during the same period — from 10 deaths in 2009 to 68 in 2012.In many cases traces of multiple NPS were found, suggesting that drug users are experimenting with combinations of these drugs, as well as alcohol in some cases.These drugs have undergone little or no human testing so their health effects are virtually unknown.Professor Fabrizio Schifano, a spokesman for NPSAD, said: “We have observed an increase in the number and range of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology results and in the cause of death of cases notified to us.”These include amphetamine-type substances, dietary supplements, ketamine derivatives, among a host of others.”The worrying trend is that these type of drugs are showing up more than ever before. Clearly this is a major public health concern and we must continue to monitor this worrying development.”Those experimenting with such substances are effectively dancing in a minefield.”The report also indicates an increase in the proportion of deaths involving stimulants such as cocaine and ecstasy-type drugs, following a decline in 2009 and stabilisation in 2010.In total, the number of drug-related deaths reported to the NPSAD during 2012 was 1,613.Opiates/opioids such as heroin and morphine, alone or in combination with other drugs continued to account for the highest proportion (36%) of reported drug-related deaths in 2012, a 4% increase compared to 2011 — a reversal of the decline in such deaths observed in recent years.Regional Highlights:Hammersmith one of worst areas in UK for drug-related deaths, says reportNew figures reveal that Hammersmith and Fulham recorded one of the highest drug-related death rates across the country in 2012 with 11.34 deaths per 100,000 population.Only Liverpool (12.57) and Blackburn with Darwen (11.45) were higher.The type of drugs related to deaths in London also drew a strong contrast to some other parts of England. As in 2011, London had the highest proportion of cocaine-related deaths in the country (15.2%), contrasting greatly with other regions, such as the Midlands and East of England where cocaine was implicated in just 3.4% of drug-related deaths.However, it is important to note that when taking into account absolute figures, Liverpool alone had more deaths involving cocaine, which was 20, than the whole of the following regions: Midlands and East of England; London; and the South of England.Liverpool overtakes Manchester with highest rates of drug-related deaths in the North West, reveals new reportThe number of drugs-related deaths in Liverpool has risen above those in Manchester for the first time since 2006 according to a new study.For the first time in over five years there were more drug-related deaths in Liverpool, which saw 49 such cases, compared to Manchester with 36.The report, compiled by researchers at St George’s, University of London, also found that Liverpool alone had more deaths linked to cocaine than the whole of the Midlands and East of England region, London and the South of England.Drugs deaths in Northern Ireland buck wider UK trend of lethal heroin useDeaths related to drugs in Northern Ireland show a marked difference from the rest of the UK as fatalities are mostly linked to prescription drugs, says a new report.Whereas the vast majority of drug-related deaths in the UK are linked to opiates such as heroin and morphine, in the province most relate to other drugs.The new research from St George’s, University of London, also shows a small decrease in the overall number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland. There were 78 such deaths in 2012 as opposed to 82 in 2011.Northern Ireland contrasts the rest of the UK with higher proportions of deaths attributed to drugs such as tramadol, benzodiazepines and anti-depressants. Northern Ireland also displayed a substantially lower proportion of deaths attributed to heroin/morphine and methadone than other regions of the UK, such as the South of England, the midlands and London.

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From surf to turf: Archaeologists and chemists trace ancient British diets

The change by our ancestors from hunter-gathers to farmers is one of the most intensively researched aspects of archaeology. Now a large-scale investigation of British archaeological sites dating from around 4,600 BC to 1,400 AD has examined millions of fragments of bone and analysed over 1,000 cooking pots.The team, led by Professor Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, developed new techniques in an effort to identify fish oils in the pots. Remarkably, they showed that more than 99 per cent of the earliest farmer’s cooking pots lacked sea food residues.Other clues to ancient diets lie within human bones themselves, explored by the Cardiff group led by Dr Jacqui Mulville. The sea passes on a unique chemical signature to the skeletons of those eating seafood; while the early fisher folk possessed this signature it was lacking in the later farmers.Lead author of the study, Dr Lucy Cramp said: “The absence of lipid residues of marine foods in hundreds of cooking pots is really significant. It certainly stacks up with the skeletal isotope evidence to provide a clear picture that seafood was of little importance in the diets of the Neolithic farmers of the region.”Returning to the pots, the Bristol team used a compound-specific carbon isotope technique they have developed to identify the actual fats preserved in the cooking pots, showing that dairy products dominated the menu right across Britain and Ireland as soon as cattle and sheep arrived.The ability to milk animals was a revolution in food production as, for the first time humans did not have to kill animals to obtain food. As every farmer knows, milking stock requires a high level of skill and knowledge.In view of this, team member, Alison Sheridan from the National Museum of Scotland concludes that: “The use of cattle for dairy products from the earliest Neolithic confirms the view that farming was introduced by experienced immigrants.”Viewed together the findings show that Early British hunters feasted on venison and wild boar and ate large quantities of sea food, including seals and shellfish. With the introduction of domestic animals some 6,000 years ago they quickly gave up wild foods and fishing was largely abandoned, and people adopted a new diet based around dairying.Dr Cramp continued: “Amazingly, it was another 4,000 years before sea food remains appeared in pots again, during the Iron Age, and it was only with the arrival of the Vikings that fish became a significant part of our diet.”Dr Mulville said: “Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk.”Why people changed so abruptly from a seafood to farming diet remains a mystery. Professor Evershed said: “Since such a clear transition is not seen in the Baltic region, perhaps the hazardous North Atlantic waters were simply too difficult to fish effectively until new technologies arrived, making dairying the only sustainable option.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Thinking skills take biggest hit from anxiety in midlife women with HIV

Hot flashes, depression, and most of all, anxiety, affect the thinking skills of midlife women with HIV, so screening for and treating their anxiety may be especially important in helping them function, according to a study just published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The reproductive stage, whether it was premenopause, perimenopause or postmenopause, did not seem to be related to these women’s thinking skills.The conclusions come from a new analysis of data on 708 HIV-infected and 278 HIV-uninfected midlife women from the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WHIS), a national study of women with HIV at six sites across the country (Chicago, Bronx, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC). Today, nearly 52% of persons with HIV/AIDS are 40 to 54 years old. Because more women with HIV are now living to midlife and beyond, it is important to understand what challenges menopause pose for them. We learned just recently, from a study published online in Menopause in July, that women with HIV do face a bigger menopause challenge than uninfected women because they have worse menopause symptoms.Whether, how, and when the process of transitioning through menopause affects cognition have been debated. Large-scale studies of healthy women indicate that the menopause-related thinking deficiencies are modest, limited to the time leading up to menopause (“perimenopause”), and rebound after menopause. But in these women who underwent mental skills testing, menopause symptoms and mood symptoms did affect thinking skills.Mental processing speed and verbal memory were more related to depression, anxiety, and hot flashes in both HIV-infected and healthy women than the stage of menopause. Hot flashes in particular correlated with slightly lower mental processing speed, a skill that is also affected by the HIV virus. Depression correlated with decreased verbal memory, processing speed, and executive function (such as planning and organizing).Of all the symptoms measured, anxiety stood out as having the greatest impact on thinking skills, and the impact was much greater on women with HIV. Anxiety particularly affected their verbal learning skills. …

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Testosterone not as helpful as expected for some women going through menopause early

With plummeting hormone levels, natural menopause before age 40 can put a damper on women’s mental well being and quality of life. But bringing testosterone back up to normal may not bring them the boost some hoped for, found a new study published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).Before age 40, ovaries stop functioning in about 1% of women without some obvious genetic abnormality to blame, bringing on an early menopause. Called “primary ovarian insufficiency” or POI, the condition can spell not only infertility and other physical problems but also depression and decreased quality of life. Adding back lost estrogen and progesterone helps. But ovaries normally produce testosterone, too, which has mental and physical effects. Adding it back, some thought, could be helpful.But studies looking at adding testosterone for women who lose ovarian function for other reasons, such as after natural menopause or hysterectomy, haven’t yielded consistent results. So these investigators looked at the mood and quality of life data from women with POI in a study done at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, where women underwent a year of hormone therapy that included testosterone. In the randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study, 61 women used placebo patches and 67 women used patches that delivered 150 micrograms of testosterone a day, similar to the Intrinsa patch that was rejected by FDA as a treatment for low sexual desire in women.After 12 months, testosterone levels were back up to normal for the women who got the treatment. The investigators saw no detrimental effects of testosterone, but they found no significant improvement either in measurements of quality of life, self esteem and mood compared with placebo.Bringing testosterone back to normal doesn’t help these aspects of life, suggesting that it’s something other than testosterone that plays a role in mood problems for women with POI, concluded the researchers.But there are still unknowns. The study didn’t measure depression and sexual function specifically, so the investigators couldn’t draw conclusions about the effects of normalizing testosterone on those problems. …

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Nitrogen fertilizer remains in soils, leaks towards groundwater for decades

Oct. 21, 2013 — Nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops lingers in the soil and leaks out as nitrate for decades towards groundwater — “much longer than previously thought,” scientists in France and at the University of Calgary say in a new study.Thirty years after synthetic nitrogen (N) fertilizer had been applied to crops in 1982, about 15 per cent of the fertilizer N still remained in soil organic matter, the scientists found.After three decades, approximately 10 per cent of the fertilizer N had seeped through the soil towards the groundwater and will continue to leak in low amounts for at least another 50 years.The study was led by researcher Mathieu Sebilo at the Université Pierre et Marie Currie in Paris, France, and by Bernhard Mayer in the U of C’s Department of Geoscience, and included several research organizations in France.Their paper, “Long-term fate of nitrate fertilizer in agricultural soils,” was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.The findings show that losses of fertilizer N towards the groundwater occur at low rates but over many decades, says Mayer, U of C professor of geochemistry and head of the Applied Geochemistry Group.That means it could take longer than previously thought to reduce nitrate contamination in groundwater, including in aquifers that supply drinking water in North America and elsewhere, he says.”There’s a lot of fertilizer nitrogen that has accumulated in agricultural soils over the last few decades which will continue to leak as nitrate towards groundwater,” Mayer says.Canada and the U.S. regulate the amount of nitrate allowed in drinking water. In the 1980s, surveys by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey showed that nitrate contamination had probably impacted more public and domestic water supply wells in the U.S. than any other contaminant.Mayer is an internationally recognized expert in the use of stable isotopes to track contaminants in the environment.The French-U of C study is the first that tracks, using stable isotope “fingerprinting,” the fate of fertilizer N remaining in the soil zone over several decades.The research team used a stable isotope of nitrogen, N-15, as a tracer to track fertilizer nitrogen applied in 1982 to sugar beet and winter wheat crops on a pair of two-metre-square plots at a site in France.Over the 30-year study, the researchers measured the amount of N-15 labelled fertilizer N taken up by plants and they quantified the amount of fertilizer N remaining in the soil.The novel aspect of their study was that they subsequently determined the long-term fate of this fertilizer N ‘pool’ retained in the soil. Their measurements of seepage water from locations two metres deep in the soil revealed the amount of fertilizer nitrate leaking towards the groundwater.The team found that 61 to 65 per cent of the N-15 fertilizer applied in 1982 was taken up by the sugar beet and wheat plants over the 30-year study.However, 32 to 37 per cent of the fertilizer N remained in the soil organic matter in 1985 or three years after application, while 12 to 15 per cent still lingered in the soils after three decades.Between eight to 12 per cent of the fertilizer N applied in 1982 had leaked in the form of nitrate toward groundwater during the 30 years, and will continue to leak at low rates “for at least another five decades, much longer than previously thought,” the study says.The scientists predict that about 15 per cent of the initially applied fertilizer N will be exported from the soils towards the groundwater over a time span of almost one century after the 1982 fertilizer application.Mayer speculates that if the same research were done in Alberta, the findings would be similar in terms of fertilizer uptake by plants and nitrogen retention in the soils, although Alberta’s comparatively dry climate and different geology might slow the rate of nitrate seeping towards the groundwater.Nitrate contamination of aquatic ecosystems can be reduced by farmers following the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship: applying the right fertilizer source at the right rate, the right time and the right place (see http://www.nutrientstewardship.com/what-are-4rs).

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Pharma company fined after man burned by chemicals

Home » No Win No Fee » Latest Personal Injury News » 2013 » 9 » Pharma company fined after man burned by chemicalsPharma company fined after man burned by chemicalsA pharmaceutical company based in the north-east of England has been fined for a serious safety breach after a worker was doused in a corrosive chemical.The unnamed employee was conducting his normal duties at the Aesica Pharmaceuticals site at the Windmill Industrial Estate in Northumberland when the accident took place.Although a previous inspection at the facility highlighted a tank containing bromine needed decommissioning as soon as possible, this had not been done by 2012 when the incident took place.Part of the unit was breached and bromine sprayed all over the staff member.He was immediately rushed to hospital, where he nearly died, but after 48 hours in intensive care the man pulled through.For failing to adequately maintain its equipment, Aesica Pharmaceuticals was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive.The firm pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was forced to pay fines and costs totalling £107,803.By Francesca WitneyOr call us on 0800 884 0321SHARE THIS

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Plant community plays key role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions from carbon rich moorlands

Sep. 18, 2013 — Different moorland plants, particularly heather and cotton grass, can strongly influence climate warming effects on greenhouse gas emissions, researchers from Lancaster University, The University of Manchester and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have discovered.The findings, published this week in the journal Ecology Letters, show valuable carbon stores, which lie deep below peaty moorlands, are at risk from changes in climate and from land management techniques that alter plant diversity.But the study found that the make-up of the plant community could also play a key role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions from these carbon rich ecosystems, as not all vegetation types respond in the same way to warming.The research, supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant, took place at Moor House National Nature Reserve, high up in the North Pennines, a long-term, ecological monitoring site for the UK Environmental Change Network.The newly set up experimental site manipulated both temperature and the composition and diversity of vegetation at the same time, allowing the team to study the combined effects of these global change phenomena for the first time.Temperatures were increased by around 1°C using open-topped, passive warming chambers, specially built on site, which mimicked the predicted effects of global warming.The researchers found that when heather was present, warming increased the amount of CO2 taken up from the atmosphere, making the ecosystem a greater sink for this greenhouse gas. However, when cotton grass was present, the CO2 sink strength of system decreased with warming, and the amount of methane released increased.Professor Richard Bardgett, who led the research team, and has recently moved to The University of Manchester, said: “What surprised us was that changes in vegetation, which can result from land management or climate change itself, also had such a strong impact on greenhouse gas emissions and even changed the way that warming affected them.”In other words, the diversity and make-up of the vegetation, which can be altered by the way the land is farmed, can completely change the sink strength of the ecosystem for carbon dioxide. This means that the way we manage peat land vegetation will strongly influence the way that peat land carbon sink strength responds to future climate change.”Dr Sue Ward, the Senior Research Associate for the project at Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “Setting up this experiment allowed us to test how greenhouse gas emissions are affected by a combination of changes in climate and changes in plant communities.”By taking gas samples every month of the year, we were able to show that the types of plants growing in these ecosystems can modify the effects of increase in temperature.”Dr Ward said the study would be of interest and relevance to ecological and climate change scientists and policy makers.”Changes in vegetation as well as physical changes in climate should be taken into account when looking at how global change affects carbon cycling,” she added. “Otherwise a vital part is missing — the biology is a key ingredient.”Professor Nick Ostle, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, a joint partner in the research, said: “This ‘real-world’ study of the response of peat lands to climate change is unique, making these findings even more important.”It seems that the identity of the plants present in these landscapes will exert a strong influence on the effect of climate warming on soil CO2 emissions back to the atmosphere. If this is true then we can expect similar responses in other carbon rich systems in the Arctic and Boreal regions.”

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Are banana farms contaminating Costa Rica’s crocs?

Sep. 19, 2013 — Shoppers spend over £10 billion on bananas annually and now this demand is being linked to the contamination of Central America’s crocodilians. New research, published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, analyses blood samples from spectacled caiman in Costa Rica and finds that intensive pesticide use in plantations leads to contaminated species in protected conservation areas.”Banana plantations are big business in Costa Rica, which exports an estimated 1.8 million tonnes per year; 10% of the global total,” said author Paul Grant from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. “The climate of the country’s North East is ideal for bananas; however, the Rio Suerte, which flows through this major banana producing area, drains into the Tortuguero Conservation Area.”Tortuguero is home to the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus), one of the most common species of crocodilian in Central America. This freshwater predator is known to be highly adaptive, feeding on fish, crustaceans and in the case of larger specimens, wild pigs.Due to the increased global demand for fruit, pesticide use has more than doubled across Central America in the past twenty years. In Costa Rica, which ranks second in the world for intensity of pesticide use, the problem of contamination is compounded by environmental conditions and lax enforcement of regulations.”Frequent heavy rains can wash pesticides from plantation areas, leading to contamination and the reapplication of sprays to the crops,” said Grant. “Without adequate enforcement of regulations dangerous practices such as aerial spraying close to streams or washing application equipment in rivers also contributes to contamination downstream.”The team collected blood samples from 14 adult caiman and analyzed them for traces of 70 types of pesticide. Caiman within the high intensity banana crop watershed of Rio Suerte had higher pesticide burdens relative to other more remote locations.The nine pesticides detected in the caiman blood were identified as insecticides. Of these seven were listed as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS), banned under the 2011 Stockholm Convention.”Caiman near banana plantations had higher pesticide burdens and lower body condition,” said Grant. “This suggests that either pesticides pose a health risk to caiman, or that pesticides harm the habitat and food supply of caiman, thereby reducing the health of this predator.”As long-lived species atop the food chain crocodilians provide an integrated assessment of the fate of pesticides in tropical areas and can be indicative of pesticide damage throughout the ecosystem.”Caiman and other aquatic species have been exposed to pesticides from upstream banana plantations, even in remote areas of a national wilderness area,” concluded Grant. …

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Antibacterial products fuel resistant bacteria in streams and rivers

Sep. 19, 2013 — Triclosan — a synthetic antibacterial widely used in personal care products — is fueling the development of resistant bacteria in streams and rivers. So reports a new paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, which is the first to document triclosan resistance in a natural environment.Invented for surgeons in the 1960s, triclosan slows or stops the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew. Currently, around half of liquid soaps contain the chemical, as well as toothpastes, deodorants, cosmetics, liquid cleansers, and detergents. Triclosan enters streams and rivers through domestic wastewater, leaky sewer infrastructure, and sewer overflows, with residues now common throughout the United States.Emma Rosi-Marshall, one of the paper’s authors and an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York explains: “The bacterial resistance caused by triclosan has real environmental consequences. Not only does it disrupt aquatic life by changing native bacterial communities, but it’s linked to the rise of resistant bacteria that could diminish the usefulness of important antibiotics.”With colleagues from Loyola University and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Rosi-Marshall explored how bacteria living in stream and river sediments responded to triclosan in both natural and controlled settings. Field studies were conducted at three sites in the Chicago metropolitan region: urban North Shore Channel, suburban West Branch Dupage River, and rural Nippersink Creek.Urbanization was correlated with a rise in both triclosan concentrations in sediments and the proportion of bottom-dwelling bacteria resistant to triclosan. A woodland creek had the lowest levels of triclosan-resistant bacteria, while a site on the North Shore Channel downstream of 25 combined sewer overflows had the highest levels.Combined sewers deliver domestic sewage, industrial wastewater, and storm water to a regional treatment plant using a single pipe. Overflows occur when a pipe’s capacity is exceeded, typically due to excessive runoff from high rainfall or snowmelt events. The result: untreated sewage flows directly into rivers and streams.The research team found that combined sewer overflows that release untreated sewage are a major source of triclosan pollution in Chicago’s North Shore Channel. …

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