Diet or exercise? ‘Energy balance’ real key to disease prevention

A majority of Americans are overweight or obese, a factor in the rapid rise in common diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and more. According to a paper published collaboratively in this month’s issues of the official journals of both the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, energy balance is a viable public health solution to address the obesity epidemic. The paper outlines steps to incorporate energy balance principles into public health outreach in the U.S.”It is time we collectively move beyond debating nutrition or exercise and focus on nutrition and exercise,” said co-author and ACSM member Melinda Manore, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., FACSM of Oregon State University. “Nutrition and exercise professionals working collaboratively, combined with effective public health messaging about the importance of energy balance, can help America shape up and become healthier.”The paper, published in the July edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, gives the following recommendations:• Integrate energy balance into curriculum and training for both exercise science and nutrition professionals and strengthen collaborative efforts between them • Develop competencies for school and physical education teachers and position them as energy balance advocates • Develop core standards for schools that integrate the dynamic energy balance approach • Work with federally-funded nutrition programs like the Cooperative Extension Service and school lunch programs to incorporate energy balance solutions • Develop messaging and promotional strategies about energy balance that American consumers can understand and apply to their lifestyle • Map out and support existing programs that emphasize energy balance”Our health professionals are currently working in silos and must work together to educate and promote energy balance as the key to better health” said Manore. “The obesity crisis is one of the greatest public health challenges of our generation. Energy balance can help us work toward a solution so our children aren’t saddled with the same health challenges we currently face. “The paper is an outcome of the October 2012 expert panel meeting titled “Energy Balance at the Crossroads: Translating the Science into Action” hosted by ACSM, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Agriculture Research Service.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways

Religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health, new research from Oregon State University indicates.”Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” said Carolyn Aldwin, a gerontology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.Aldwin and colleagues have been working to understand and distinguish the beneficial connections between health, religion and spirituality. The result is a new theoretical model that defines two distinct pathways.Religiousness, including formal religious affiliation and service attendance, is associated with better health habits, such as lower smoking rates and reduced alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and private prayer, helps regulate emotions, which aids physiological effects such as blood pressure.The findings were published recently in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Co-authors were Crystal L. Park of the University of Connecticut, and Yu-Jin Jeong and Ritwik Nath of OSU. The research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.”No one has ever reviewed all of the different models of how religion affects health,” said Aldwin, the Jo Anne Leonard endowed director of OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research. “We’re trying to impose a structure on a very messy field.”There can be some overlap of the influences of religion and spirituality on health, Aldwin said. More research is needed to test the theory and examine contrasts between the two pathways. The goal is to help researchers develop better measures for analyzing the connections between religion, spirituality and health and then explore possible clinical interventions, she said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Medical marijuana may ease some MS; Little evidence for other complementary or alternative therapies

A new guideline from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that there is little evidence that most complementary or alternative medicine therapies (CAM) treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the guideline states the CAM therapies oral cannabis, or medical marijuana pills, and oral medical marijuana spray may ease patients’ reported symptoms of spasticity, pain related to spasticity and frequent urination in multiple sclerosis (MS). The guideline, which is published in the March 25, 2014, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, states that there is not enough evidence to show whether smoking marijuana is helpful in treating MS symptoms.The guideline looked at CAM therapies, which are nonconventional therapies used in addition to or instead of doctor-recommended therapies. Examples include oral cannabis, or medical marijuana pills and oral medical marijuana spray, ginkgo biloba, magnetic therapy, bee sting therapy, omega-3 fatty acids and reflexology.”Using different CAM therapies is common in 33 to 80 percent of people with MS, particularly those who are female, have higher education levels and report poorer health,” said guideline lead author Vijayshree Yadav, MD, MCR, with Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “People with MS should let their doctors know what types of these therapies they are taking, or thinking about taking.”For most CAM therapies, safety is unknown. There is not enough information to show if CAM therapies interact with prescription MS drugs. Most CAM therapies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dronabinol and nabilone are synthetic forms of key ingredients in marijuana. The FDA approved both drugs as treatments for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy that do not respond to standard treatments. Dronabinol also is approved for loss of appetite associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS.The guideline found that certain forms of medical marijuana, in pill or oral spray form only, may help reduce patients’ reported spasticity symptoms, pain due to spasticity, and frequent urination but not loss of bladder control. …

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Fossilized human feces from 14th century contain antibiotic resistance genes

A team of French investigators has discovered viruses containing genes for antibiotic resistance in a fossilized fecal sample from 14th century Belgium, long before antibiotics were used in medicine. They publish their findings ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.”This is the first paper to analyze an ancient DNA viral metagenome,” says Rebecca Vega Thurber of Oregon State University, Corvallis, who was not involved in the research.The viruses in the fecal sample are phages, which are viruses that infect bacteria, rather than infecting eukaryotic organisms such as animals, plants, and fungi. Most of the viral sequences the researchers found in the ancient coprolite (fossil fecal sample) were related to viruses currently known to infect bacteria commonly found in stools (and hence, in the human gastrointestinal tract), including both bacteria that live harmlessly, and even helpfully in the human gut, and human pathogens, says corresponding author Christelle Desnues of Aix Marseille Universit.The communities of phage within the coprolite were different, taxonomically, from communities seen within modern human fecal samples, but the functions they carry out appear to be conserved, says Desnues. That reinforces the hypothesis that the viral community plays a fundamental role within the human gastrointestinal tract, and one which remains unchanged after centuries, even while the human diet and other human conditions have been changing.Over the last five years, considerable evidence has emerged that bacteria inhabiting the gut play an important role in maintaining human health, for example, as part of the human metabolic system, says Desnues. Her own research suggests that the bacteriophage infecting the gut bacteria may help maintain these bacteria. Among the genes found in the phage are antibiotic resistance genes and genes for resistance to toxic compounds. Both toxins and antibiotics are common in nature, and Desnues suggests that the resistance genes may simply be protecting the gut bacteria from them.”Our evidence demonstrates that bacteriophages represent an ancient reservoir of resistance genes and that this dates at least as far back as the Middle Ages,” says Desnues.”We were interested in viruses because these are 100 times more abundant than human cells in our bodies, but their diversity is still largely unexplored,” says Desnues. “In the present study, we thus focused on the viral fraction of the coprolite by using, for the first time, a combination of electron microscopy, high-throughput sequencing and suicide PCR approaches.”Desnues and her collaborators are currently conducting further studies on the fungi and parasites in the coprolites, which she says will be of interest not only to microbiologists, but to historians, anthropologists, and evolutionists.The genesis of the research was an urban renewal project in the city of Namur, Belgium, in which latrines dating back to the 1300s were discovered beneath a square.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Society for Microbiology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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64 Year-Old Biphasic Mesothelioma Patient Coping With A New Reality. Simi Valley, CA

Sometimes Arlene Delman still sees glimmers of her previous life when she least expects it. Like when a stranger pays her a compliment on her hairstyle at the grocery store which she adds, isn’t the first time, she can’t help but feel good. “I never got this much attention with my real hair,” she giggles. These moments of normalcy most resemble her old life before she was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in October 2012. Now she admits to shedding more than a few tears when she removes her wig at the end of the day. She has always been an attractive woman with big twinkling blue eyes, but her vanity has been rendered insignificant in the way she has tackled her treatment both aggressively and optimistically.Prior …

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AIDS vaccine candidate appears to completely clear virus from the body in monkeys

Sep. 11, 2013 — An HIV/AIDS vaccine candidate developed by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University appears to have the ability to completely clear an AIDS-causing virus from the body. The promising vaccine candidate is being developed at OHSU’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. It is being tested through the use of a non-human primate form of HIV, called simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV, which causes AIDS in monkeys. Following further development, it is hoped an HIV-form of the vaccine candidate can soon be tested in humans.These research results were published online today by the journal Nature. The results will also appear in a future print version of the publication.”To date, HIV infection has only been cured in a very small number of highly-publicized but unusual clinical cases in which HIV-infected individuals were treated with anti-viral medicines very early after the onset of infection or received a stem cell transplant to combat cancer,” said Louis Picker, M.D., associate director of the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. “This latest research suggests that certain immune responses elicited by a new vaccine may also have the ability to completely remove HIV from the body.”The Picker lab’s approach involves the use of cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a common virus already carried by a large percentage of the population. In short, the researchers discovered that pairing CMV with SIV had a unique effect. They found that a modified version of CMV engineered to express SIV proteins generates and indefinitely maintains so-called “effector memory” T-cells that are capable of searching out and destroying SIV-infected cells.T-cells are a key component of the body’s immune system, which fights off disease, but T-cells elicited by conventional vaccines of SIV itself are not able to eliminate the virus. The SIV-specific T-cells elicited by the modified CMV were different. …

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Overgrazing turning parts of Mongolian Steppe into desert

Sep. 5, 2013 — Overgrazing by millions of sheep and goats is the primary cause of degraded land in the Mongolian Steppe, one of the largest remaining grassland ecosystems in the world, Oregon State University researchers say in a new report.Using a new satellite-based vegetation monitoring system, researchers found that about 12 percent of the biomass has disappeared in this country that’s more than twice the size of Texas, and 70 percent of the grassland ecosystem is now considered degraded. The findings were published in Global Change Biology.Overgrazing accounts for about 80 percent of the vegetation loss in recent years, researchers concluded, and reduced precipitation as a result of climatic change accounted for most of the rest. These combined forces have led to desertification as once-productive grasslands are overtaken by the Gobi Desert, expanding rapidly from the south.Since 1990 livestock numbers have almost doubled to 45 million animals, caused in part by the socioeconomic changes linked to the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the report said. High unemployment led many people back to domestic herding.The problem poses serious threats to this ecosystem, researchers say, including soil and water loss, but it may contribute to global climate change as well. Grasslands, depending on their status, can act as either a significant sink or source for atmospheric carbon dioxide.”This is a pretty serious issue,” said Thomas Hilker, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Forestry. “Regionally, this is a huge area in which the land is being degraded and the food supply for local people is being reduced.”Globally, however, all ecosystems have a distinct function in world climate,” he said. “Vegetation cools the landscape and plays an important role for the water and carbon balance, including greenhouse gases.”Even though it was clear that major problems were occurring in Mongolia in the past 20 years, researchers were uncertain whether the underlying cause was overgrazing, climate change or something else. This report indicates that overgrazing is the predominant concern.Mongolia is a semi-arid region with harsh, dry winters and warm, wet summers. About 79 percent of the country is covered by grasslands, and a huge surge in the number of grazing animals occurred during just the past decade — especially sheep and goats that cause more damage than cattle. …

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Pass the salt: Common condiment could enable new high-tech industry — silicon nanostructures

Aug. 8, 2013 — Chemists at Oregon State University have identified a compound that could significantly reduce the cost and potentially enable the mass commercial production of silicon nanostructures — materials that have huge potential in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage.This extraordinary compound is called table salt.Simple sodium chloride, most frequently found in a salt shaker, has the ability to solve a key problem in the production of silicon nanostructures, researchers just announced in Scientific Reports, a professional journal.By melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a “magnesiothermic reaction,” the salt prevents the collapse of the valuable nanostructures that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, and it can be recycled and used again.The concept, surprising in its simplicity, should open the door to wider use of these remarkable materials that have stimulated scientific research all over the world.”This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry,” said David Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. “There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are very costly and can only produce tiny amounts.”The use of salt as a heat scavenger in this process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost,” he said. “If we can get the cost low enough many new applications may emerge.”Silicon, the second most abundant element in Earth’s crust, has already created a revolution in electronics. But silicon nanostructures, which are complex structures much smaller than a speck of dust, have potential that goes far beyond the element itself.Uses are envisioned in photonics, biological imaging, sensors, drug delivery, thermoelectric materials that can convert heat into electricity, and energy storage.Batteries are one of the most obvious and possibly first applications that may emerge from this field, Ji said. It should be possible with silicon nanostructures to create batteries — for anything from a cell phone to an electric car — that last nearly twice as long before they need recharging.Existing technologies to make silicon nanostructures are costly, and simpler technologies in the past would not work because they required such high temperatures. Ji developed a methodology that mixed sodium chloride and magnesium with diatomaceous earth, a cheap and abundant form of silicon.When the temperature reached 801 degrees centigrade, the salt melted and absorbed heat in the process. This basic chemical concept — a solid melting into a liquid absorbs heat — kept the nanostructure from collapsing.The sodium chloride did not contaminate or otherwise affect the reaction, researchers said. Scaling reactions such as this up to larger commercial levels should be feasible, they said.The study also created, for the first time with this process, nanoporous composite materials of silicon and germanium. …

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Cognitive decline with age is normal, routine, but not inevitable

Aug. 7, 2013 — If you forget where you put your car keys and you can’t seem to remember things as well as you used to, the problem may well be with the GluN2B subunits in your NMDA receptors.And don’t be surprised if by tomorrow you can’t remember the name of those darned subunits.They help you remember things, but you’ve been losing them almost since the day you were born, and it’s only going to get worse. An old adult may have only half as many of them as a younger person.Research on these biochemical processes in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University is making it clear that cognitive decline with age is a natural part of life, and scientists are tracking the problem down to highly specific components of the brain. Separate from some more serious problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, virtually everyone loses memory-making and cognitive abilities as they age. The process is well under way by the age of 40 and picks up speed after that.But of considerable interest: It may not have to be that way.“These are biological processes, and once we fully understand what is going on, we may be able to slow or prevent it,” said Kathy Magnusson, a neuroscientist in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and professor in the Linus Pauling Institute. “There may be ways to influence it with diet, health habits, continued mental activity or even drugs.”The processes are complex. In a study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that one protein that stabilizes receptors in a young animal – a good thing conducive to learning and memory – can have just the opposite effect if there’s too much of it in an older animal.But complexity aside, progress is being made. In recent research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, OSU scientists used a genetic therapy in laboratory mice, in which a virus helped carry complementary DNA into appropriate cells and restored some GluN2B subunits. Tests showed that it helped mice improve their memory and cognitive ability.The NMDA receptor has been known of for decades, Magnusson said. It plays a role in memory and learning but isn’t active all the time – it takes a fairly strong stimulus of some type to turn it on and allow you to remember something. …

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Global warming to cut snow water storage 56 percent in Oregon watershed

July 26, 2013 — A new report projects that by the middle of this century there will be an average 56 percent drop in the amount of water stored in peak snowpack in the McKenzie River watershed of the Oregon Cascade Range — and that similar impacts may be found on low-elevation maritime snow packs around the world.The findings by scientists at Oregon State University, which are based on a projected 3.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, highlight the special risks facing many low-elevation, mountainous regions where snow often falls near the freezing point. In such areas, changing from snow to rain only requires a very modest rise in temperature.As in Oregon, which depends on Cascade Range winter snowpack for much of the water in the populous Willamette Valley, there may be significant impacts on ecosystems, agriculture, hydropower, industry, municipalities and recreation, especially in summer when water demands peak.The latest study was one of the most precise of its type done on an entire watershed, and was just published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, with support from the National Science Foundation. It makes it clear that new choices are coming for western Oregon and other regions like it.”In Oregon we have a water-rich environment, but even here we will have to manage our water resources differently in the future,” said Eric Sproles, who led this study as a doctoral student at OSU.”In the Willamette River, for instance, between 60-80 percent of summer stream flow comes from seasonal snow above 4,000 feet,” he said. “As more precipitation falls as rain, there will more chance of winter flooding as well as summer drought in the same season. More than 70 percent of Oregon’s population lives in the Willamette Valley, with the economy and ecosystems depending heavily on this river.”Annual precipitation in the future may be either higher or lower, the OSU researchers said. They did calculations for precipitation changes that could range 10 percent in either direction, although change of that magnitude is not anticipated by most climate models.The study made clear, so far as snowpack goes, that temperature is the driving force, far more than precipitation. Even the highest levels of anticipated precipitation had almost no impact on snow-water storage, they said.”This is not an issue that will just affect Oregon,” said Anne Nolin, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and co-author of the study. “You may see similar impacts almost anywhere around the world that has low-elevation snow in mountains, such as in Japan, New Zealand, Northern California, the Andes Mountains, a lot of Eastern Europe and the lower-elevation Alps.”The focus of this study was the McKenzie River, a beautiful, clear mountain river that rises in the high Cascade Range near the Three Sisters volcanoes, and supplies about 25 percent of the late summer discharge of the Willamette River. Researchers said this is one of the most detailed studies of its type done on a large watershed.Among the findings of the study:The average date of peak snowpack in the spring on this watershed will be about 12 days earlier by the middle of this century. The elevation zone from 1,000 to 1,500 meters will lose the greatest volume of stored water, and some locations at that elevation could lose more than 80 days of snow cover in an average year. …

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Silky brain implants may help stop spread of epilepsy

July 25, 2013 — Silk has walked straight off the runway and into the lab. According to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, silk implants placed in the brain of laboratory animals and designed to release a specific chemical, adenosine, may help stop the progression of epilepsy.The research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which are part of the National Institutes of Health.The epilepsies are a group of neurological disorders associated with recurring seizures that tend to become more frequent and severe over time. Adenosine decreases neuronal excitability and helps stop seizures. Earlier studies have suggested abnormally low levels of adenosine may be linked to epilepsy.Rebecca L. Williams-Karnesky, Ph.D. and her colleagues from Legacy Research Institute, Portland, Ore., Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), Portland, and Tufts University, Boston, looked at long-term effects of an adenosine-releasing silk-implant therapy in rats and examined the role of adenosine in causing epigenetic changes that may be associated with the development of epilepsy.The investigators argue that adenosine’s beneficial effects are due to epigenetic modifications (chemical reactions that change the way genes are turned on or off without altering the DNA code, the letters that make up our genetic background). Specifically, these changes happen when a molecule known as a methyl group blocks a portion of DNA, affecting which genes are accessible and can be turned on. If methyl groups have been taken away (demethylated), genes are more likely to turn on.The results reported in the paper provided evidence that changing adenosine levels affects DNA methylation in the brain. Specifically, greater amounts of adenosine were associated with lower levels of DNA methylation. The investigators also demonstrate that rats induced to develop epilepsy have higher levels of methylated DNA. …

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Athletes need to be careful to monitor diet, weight to maintain muscle mass

July 23, 2013 — Athletes seeking a healthy performance weight should eat high fiber, low-fat food balanced with their training regimen in order to maintain muscle while still burning fat, according to a report by an Oregon State University researcher.The United States now has a record number of overweight athletes, a population many think of as untouched by the obesity crisis. Nationally, more than 45 percent of high school linebackers are obese, and the number of overweight students entering college level-sports is increasing.In a peer-reviewed literature review published this summer in the Nestle Nutritional Institution Workshop Series, OSU researcher Melinda Manore looked at the benefits of teaching athletes how to consume what she calls a low-energy-dense diet, or high-fiber, high-water, but lower-fat foods. She said too many athletes are pushed into fad diets or try to restrict calorie intake too much in a way that is unhealthy and unsustainable.”Depending on the sport, athletes sometime want to either lose weight without losing lean tissue, or gain weight, mostly lean tissue,” she said. “This is very difficult to do if you restrict caloric intake too dramatically or try to lose the weight too fast. Doing that also means they don’t have the energy to exercise, or they feel tired and put themselves at risk of injury.”Manore is professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. She said the overwhelming body of research shows that just counting calories does not work. What does work is a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained, even during breaks or when not in training. She said an athlete’s optimum body weight should include the following criteria:Weight that minimizes health risks and promotes good eating Weight that takes into consideration genetic makeup and family history Weight that is appropriate for age and level of physical development, including normal reproductive function in women Weight that can be maintained without constant dieting and restraining food intake In the paper, Manore outlined some strategies that athletes can use to maintain a healthy weight and remain performance-ready. It’s important, she said, to adopt a low-energy-dense diet, which includes a large amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages high in sugar, especially soda and alcohol. …

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Greening of the Earth pushed way back in time

July 22, 2013 — Conventional scientific wisdom has it that plants and other creatures have only lived on land for about 500 million years, and that landscapes of the early Earth were as barren as Mars.A new study, led by geologist Gregory J. Retallack of the University of Oregon, now has presented evidence for life on land that is four times as old — at 2.2 billion years ago and almost half way back to the inception of the planet.That evidence, which is detailed in the September issue of the journal Precambrian Research, involves fossils the size of match heads and connected into bunches by threads in the surface of an ancient soil from South Africa. They have been named Diskagma buttonii, meaning “disc-shaped fragments of Andy Button,” but it is unsure what the fossils were, the authors say.”They certainly were not plants or animals, but something rather more simple,” said Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontological collections at the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The fossils, he added, most resemble modern soil organisms called Geosiphon, a fungus with a central cavity filled with symbiotic cyanobacteria.”There is independent evidence for cyanobacteria, but not fungi, of the same geological age, and these new fossils set a new and earlier benchmark for the greening of the land,” he said. “This gains added significance because fossil soils hosting the fossils have long been taken as evidence for a marked rise in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere at about 2.4 billion to 2.2 billion years ago, widely called the Great Oxidation Event.”By modern standards, in which Earth’s air is now 21 percent oxygen, this early rise was modest, to about 5 percent oxygen, but it represented a rise from vanishingly low oxygen levels earlier in geological time.Demonstrating that Diskagma are fossils, Retallack said, was a technical triumph because they were too big to be completely seen in a standard microscopic slide and within rock that was too dark to see through in slabs. The samples were imaged using powerful X-rays of a cyclotron, a particle accelerator, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.The images enabled a three-dimensional restoration of the fossils’ form: odd little hollow urn-shaped structures with a terminal cup and basal attachment tube. “At last we have an idea of what life on land looked like in the Precambrian,” Retallack said. “Perhaps with this search image in mind, we can find more and different kinds of fossils in ancient soils.”In their conclusion, the researchers noted that their newly named fossil Diskagma is comparable in morphology and size to Thucomyces lichenoides, a fossil dating to 2.8 billion years ago and also found in South Africa, but its composition, including interior structure and trace elements, is significantly different.Diskagma also holds some similarities to three living organisms, which were illustrated microscopically in the study: the slime mold Leocarpus fragilis as found in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness; the lichen Cladonia ecmocyna gathered near Fishtrap Lake in Montana; and the fungus Geosiphon pyriformis from near Darmstadt, Germany.The new fossil, the authors concluded, is a promising candidate for the oldest known eukaryote –an organism with cells that contain complex structures, including a nucleus, within membranes.”Researchers at the UO are collaborating with scientists from around the world to create new knowledge with far-reaching applications,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, UO vice president for research and innovation, and dean of the graduate school. “This research by Dr. Retallack and his team opens new doors of inquiry about the origins of ancient life on Earth.”

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Scientists outline long-term sea-level rise in response to warming of planet

July 15, 2013 — A new study estimates that global sea levels will rise about 2.3 meters, or more than seven feet, over the next several thousand years for every degree (Celsius) the planet warms.This international study is one of the first to combine analyses of four major contributors to potential sea level rise into a collective estimate, and compare it with evidence of past sea-level responses to global temperature changes.Results of the study, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, are being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”The study did not seek to estimate how much the planet will warm, or how rapidly sea levels will rise,” noted Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and author on the PNAS article. “Instead, we were trying to pin down the ‘sea-level commitment’ of global warming on a multi-millennial time scale. In other words, how much would sea levels rise over long periods of time for each degree the planet warms and holds that warmth?””The simulations of future scenarios we ran from physical models were fairly consistent with evidence of sea-level rise from the past,” Clark added. “Some 120,000 years ago, for example, it was 1-2 degrees warmer than it is now and sea levels were about five to nine meters higher. This is consistent with what our models say may happen in the future.”Scientists say the four major contributors to sea-level rise on a global scale will come from melting of glaciers, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, and expansion of the ocean itself as it warms. Several past studies have examined each of these components, the authors say, but this is one of the first efforts at merging different analyses into a single projection.The researchers ran hundreds of simulations through their models to calculate how the four areas would respond to warming, Clark said, and the response was mostly linear. The amount of melting and subsequent sea-level response was commensurate with the amount of warming. The exception, he said, was in Greenland, which seems to have a threshold at which the response can be amplified.”As the ice sheet in Greenland melts over thousands of years and becomes lower, the temperature will increase because of the elevation loss,” Clark said. “For every 1,000 meters of elevation loss, it warms about six degrees (Celsius). That elevation loss would accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.”In contrast, the Antarctic ice sheet is so cold that elevation loss won’t affect it the same way. …

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Climate change threatens forest survival on drier, low-elevation sites

June 28, 2013 — Predicted increases in temperature and drought in the coming century may make it more difficult for conifers such as ponderosa pine to regenerate after major forest fires on dry, low-elevation sites, in some cases leading to conversion of forests to grass or shrub lands, a report suggests.Researchers from Oregon State University concluded that moisture stress is a key limitation for conifer regeneration following stand-replacing wildfire, which will likely increase with climate change. This will make post-fire recovery on dry sites slow and uncertain. If forests are desired in these locations, more aggressive attempts at reforestation may be needed, they said.The study, published in Forest Ecology and Management, was done in a portion of the Metolius River watershed in the eastern Cascade Range of Oregon, which prior to a 2002 fire was mostly ponderosa pine with some Douglas-fir and other tree species. The research area was not salvage-logged or replanted following the severe, stand-replacing fire.”A decade after this fire, there was almost no tree regeneration at lower, drier sites,” said Erich Dodson, a researcher with the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. “There was some regeneration at higher sites with more moisture. But at the low elevations, it will be a long time before a forest comes back, if it ever does.”Similar situations may be found in many areas of the American West in coming decades, the researchers say, and recruitment of new forests may be delayed or prevented — even in climate conditions that might have been able to maintain an existing forest. While mature trees can use their roots to tap water deeper in the soil, competition with dense understory vegetation can make it difficult for seedlings to survive.Openings in ponderosa pine forests created by wildfire have persisted for more than a century on harsh, south-facing slopes in Colorado, the researchers noted in their report. And fire severity is already increasing in many forests due to climate change — what is now thought of as a drought in some locations may be considered average by the end of the next century.If trees do fail to regenerate, it could further reduce ecosystem carbon storage and amplify the greenhouse effect, the study said.Restoration treatment including thinning and prescribed burning may help reduce fire severity and increase tree survival after wildfire, as well as provide a seed source for future trees, Dodson said. These dry sites with less resilience to stand-replacing fire should be priorities for treatment, if maintaining a forest is a management objective, the study concluded.Higher-elevation, mixed conifer forests in less moisture-limited sites may be able to recover from stand-replacing wildfire without treatment, the researchers said.

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Small dam construction to reduce greenhouse emissions is causing ecosystem disruption

June 18, 2013 — Researchers conclude in a new report that a global push for small hydropower projects, supported by various nations and also the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, may cause unanticipated and potentially significant losses of habitat and biodiversity.An underlying assumption that small hydropower systems pose fewer ecological concerns than large dams is not universally valid, scientists said in the report. A five-year study, one of the first of its type, concluded that for certain environmental impacts the cumulative damage caused by small dams is worse than their larger counterparts.The findings were reported by scientists from Oregon State University in the journal Water Resources Research, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.The conclusions were based on studies of the Nu River system in China but are relevant to national energy policies in many nations or regions — India, Turkey, Latin America — that seek to expand hydroelectric power generation. Hydropower is generally favored over coal in many developing areas because it uses a renewable resource and does not contribute to global warming. Also, the social and environmental problems caused by large dam projects have resulted in a recent trend toward increased construction of small dams.”The Kyoto Protocol, under Clean Development Mechanism, is funding the construction of some of these small hydroelectric projects, with the goal of creating renewable energy that’s not based on fossil fuels,” said Desiree Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.”The energy may be renewable, but this research raises serious questions about whether or not the overall process is sustainable,” Tullos said.”There is damage to streams, fisheries, wildlife, threatened species and communities,” she said. “Furthermore, the projects are often located in areas where poverty and illiteracy are high. The benefit to these local people is not always clear, as some of the small hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, indicating that the electricity is being sent outside of the local region.”The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”This study was one of the first of its type to look at the complete range of impacts caused by multiple, small hydroelectric projects, both in a biophysical, ecological and geopolitical basis, and compare them to large dam projects. It focused on the remote Nu River in China’s Yunnan Province, where many small dams producing 50 megawatts of power or less are built on tributaries that fall rapidly out of steep mountains. There are already 750,000 dams in China and about one new dam is being built every day, researchers say.Among the findings of the report as it relates to this region of China:The cumulative amount of energy produced by small hydroelectric projects can be significant, but so can the ecological concerns they raise in this area known to be a “hotspot” of biological diversity. Per megawatt of energy produced, small tributary dams in some cases can have negative environmental impacts that are many times greater than large, main stem dams. Many dams in China are built as part of a state-mandated policy to “Send Western Energy East” toward the larger population and manufacturing centers. …

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Bullfrogs may help spread deadly amphibian fungus, but also die from it

June 17, 2013 — Amphibian populations are declining worldwide and a major cause is a deadly fungus thought to be spread by bullfrogs, but a two-year study shows they can also die from this pathogen, contrary to suggestions that bullfrogs are a tolerant carrier host that just spreads the disease.When researchers raised the frogs from eggs in controlled experimental conditions, they found at least one strain of this pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also called Bd or a chytrid fungus, can be fatal to year-old juveniles. However, bullfrogs were resistant to one other strain that was tested.The findings, made by researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Pittsburgh, show that bullfrogs are not the sole culprit in the spread of this deadly fungus, and add further complexity to the question of why amphibians are in such serious jeopardy.About 40 percent of all amphibian species are declining or are already extinct, researchers say. Various causes are suspected, including this fungus, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, invasive species, increased UV-B light exposure, and other forces.”At least so far as the chytrid fungus is involved, bullfrogs may not be the villains they are currently made out to be,” said Stephanie Gervasi, a zoology researcher in the OSU College of Science. “The conventional wisdom is that bullfrogs, as a tolerant host, are what helped spread this fungus all over the world. But we’ve now shown they can die from it just like other amphibians.”The research suggests that bullfrogs actually are not a very good host for the fungus, which first was identified as a novel disease of amphibians in 1998. So why the fungus has spread so fast, so far, and is causing such mortality rates is still not clear.”One possibility for the fungal increase is climate change, which can also compromise the immune systems of amphibians,” said Andrew Blaustein, a distinguished professor of zoology at OSU and international leader in the study of amphibian declines. “There are a lot of possible ways the fungus can spread. People can even carry it on their shoes.”The average infection load of the chytrid fungus in bullfrogs, regardless of the strain, is considerably lower than that of many other amphibian species, researchers have found. Some bullfrogs can reduce and even get rid of infection in their skin over time.While adult bullfrogs may be carriers of some strains of Bd in some areas, the researchers concluded, different hosts may be as or more important in other locations. International trade of both amphibian and non-amphibian animal species may also drive global pathogen distribution, they said.The findings of this study were published in EcoHealth, a professional journal.

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New technique for deep brain stimulation surgery proves accurate and safe

June 5, 2013 — The surgeon who more than two decades ago pioneered deep brain stimulation surgery in the United States to treat people with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders has now developed a new way to perform the surgery — which allows for more accurate placement of the brain electrodes and likely is safer for patients.The success and safety of the new surgical technique could have broad implications for deep brain stimulation, or DBS, surgery into the future, as it may increasingly be used to help with a wide range of medical issues beyond Parkinson’s disease and familial tremors.The new surgery also offers another distinct advantage: patients are asleep during the surgery, rather than being awake under local anesthesia to help surgeons determine placement of the electrodes as happens with the traditional DBS surgery.A study detailing the new surgical technique is being published in the June 2013 edition of the Journal of Neurosurgery, and has been published online at the journal’s website.”I think this will be how DBS surgery will be done in most cases going forward,” said Kim Burchiel, M.D., F.A.C.S., chair of neurological surgery at Oregon Health & Science University and the lead author of the Journal of Neurosurgery article. “This surgery allows for extremely accurate placement of the electrodes and it’s safer. Plus patients don’t need to be awake during this surgery — which will mean many more patients who can be helped by this surgery will now be willing to consider it.”DBS surgery was first developed in France in 1987. Burchiel was the first surgeon in North America to perform the surgery, as part of a Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trial in 1991.The FDA approved the surgery for “essential tremor” in 1997 and for tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease in 2002. The surgery has been performed tens of thousands of times over the last decade or so in the United States, most often for familial tremor and Parkinson’s disease. Burchiel and his team at OHSU have performed the surgery more than 750 times.The surgery involves implanting very thin wire electrodes in the brain, connected to something like a pacemaker implanted in the chest. The system then stimulates the brain to often significantly reduce the tremors.For most of the last two decades, the DBS patient was required to be awake during surgery, to allow surgeons to determine through monitoring the patient’s symptoms and getting other conscious patient feedback whether the electrodes were placed in the right spots in the brain.But the traditional form of the surgery had drawbacks. Many patients who might have benefitted weren’t willing to undergo the sometimes 4 to 6 hour surgery while awake. There also is a small chance of hemorrhaging in the brain as the surgeon places or moves the electrodes to the right spot in the brain.The new technique uses advances in brain imaging in recent years to place the electrodes more safely, and more accurately, than in traditional DBS surgery. The surgical team uses CT scanning during the surgery itself, along with an MRI of the patient’s brain before the surgery, to precisely place the electrodes in the brain, while better ensuring no hemorrhaging or complications from the insertion of the electrode.The Journal of Neurosurgery article reported on 60 patients who had the surgery at OHSU over an 18-month period beginning in early 2011.”What our results say is that it’s safe, that we had no hemorrhaging or complications at all — and the accuracy of the electrode placement is the best ever reported,” Burchiel said.Burchiel and his team have done another 140 or so surgeries with the new procedure since enrollment in the study ended. …

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Living fossils? Actually, sturgeon fish are evolutionary speedsters

June 6, 2013 — Efforts to restore sturgeon in the Great Lakes region have received a lot of attention in recent years, and many of the news stories note that the prehistoric-looking fish are “living fossils” virtually unchanged for millions of years.But a new study by University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues reveals that in at least one measure of evolutionary change — changes in body size over time — sturgeon have been one of the fastest-evolving fish on the planet.”Sturgeon are thought of as a living fossil group that has undergone relatively slow rates of anatomical change over time. But that’s simply not true,” said Daniel Rabosky, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a curator of herpetology at the Museum of Zoology.”Our study shows that sturgeon are evolving very quickly in some ways. They have evolved a huge range of body sizes. There are dwarf sturgeon the size of a bass and several other species that are nearly as big as a Volkswagen.”The sturgeon finding is just one result in a wide-ranging study of the rates of species formation and anatomical change in fish. The work involved assembling one of the largest evolutionary trees ever created for any group of animals. The evolutionary relationships between nearly 8,000 species of fish are delineated in the branches of the tree, allowing the researchers to make inferences about all 30,000 or so species of ray-finned fish.The study’s findings are scheduled for online publication in Nature Communications on June 6. Rabosky and Michael Alfaro of the University of California, Los Angeles, are the lead authors. U-M computational evolutionary biologist Stephen Smith is a co-author.The main goal of the project was to test a longstanding idea in evolutionary biology that has anecdotal support but which had never been rigorously evaluated, Rabosky said. It was Charles Darwin who coined the term “living fossil” to describe extant creatures, such as the gar (another Great Lakes resident) and the lungfish, which have been present for many millions of years in the fossil record yet appear to have undergone very little anatomical change.Paleontologists have long suspected that these observations reflect a fundamental coupling between the rates of species formation and anatomical change: groups of organisms that contain lots of species also seem to have greater amounts of anatomical variation, while groups with only a few species, such as the gar, lack much morphological variety.Rabosky and his colleagues assembled a time-calibrated evolutionary tree for 7,864 living fish species using DNA sequence data and body-size information from publicly available databases. Their data set was so large that they had to develop new computer programs from scratch to analyze it.The new computer models and the vast amount of data enabled the team to study the correlation between how quickly new species form and how rapidly they evolve new body sizes on a scale that had not previously been possible.They found a strong correlation between the rates of species diversification and body size evolution across the more than 30,000 living species of ray-finned fish, which comprise the majority of vertebrate biological diversity.”We’re basically validating a lot of ideas that have been out there since Darwin, but which had never been tested at this scale due to lack of data and the limits of existing technologies,” Rabosky said.Most of the fish groups fall into one of two categories. …

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‘Lending circles’ help low-income communities join the financial mainstream, study suggests

June 4, 2013 — An innovative financial lending program is helping low-income individuals build credit, reduce debt and find their financial footing, according to a pair of studies released today from San Francisco State University’s César E. Chávez Institute (CCI).Lending Circles, a program managed by the nonprofit Mission Asset Fund, dramatically improved credit scores for low-income residents of San Francisco, the studies found. In addition, the reports suggest the program can be successfully replicated in other communities and could serve as a nationwide model for helping vulnerable populations, particularly immigrants, achieve economic stability. Many of these communities were among the hardest hit by the recent recession.”Low-income individuals, especially immigrant women, often have limited access to financial opportunities and few places to turn for help,” said Belinda Reyes, an associate professor of Latina/Latino Studies at SF State, CCI director and lead author of the studies. “The Lending Circle program is bringing people who had no credit or very a damaged credit, into the financial mainstream.”In a lending circle, participants join a group of at least four individuals in which each contributes an equal amount and receives the total sum in rotation. For example, someone participating in a circle with seven other people could contribute $100 a month for 8 months in exchange for an $800 loan.”This is something that immigrant communities in particular have used for generations,” Reyes said. “In the past it has been very informal, but a good way of getting cash.”MAF is the first to formalize these types of peer loans by reporting payments to credit bureaus, allowing lending circle participants to build up credit. To build good spending habits, MAF combined the circles with financial education classes to help participants learn how to manage their expenses and adopt behaviors that can help their credit score. Researchers found that those who participated in a lending circle in 2011 and 2012 saw their credit score increase by an average of 168 points. The impact was even more dramatic for those with no credit history: 72 percent of participants with no credit score at the beginning of their lending circle had a score of 620 or above at the end of their first lending circle.”The program is outstanding for people without credit history,” Reyes said. …

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