Six new genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s found

Using data from over 18,000 patients, scientists have identified more than two dozen genetic risk factors involved in Parkinson’s disease, including six that had not been previously reported. The study, published in Nature Genetics, was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by scientists working in NIH laboratories.”Unraveling the genetic underpinnings of Parkinson’s is vital to understanding the multiple mechanisms involved in this complex disease, and hopefully, may one day lead to effective therapies,” said Andrew Singleton, Ph.D., a scientist at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and senior author of the study.Dr. Singleton and his colleagues collected and combined data from existing genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which allow scientists to find common variants, or subtle differences, in the genetic codes of large groups of individuals. The combined data included approximately 13,708 Parkinson’s disease cases and 95,282 controls, all of European ancestry.The investigators identified potential genetic risk variants, which increase the chances that a person may develop Parkinson’s disease. Their results suggested that the more variants a person has, the greater the risk, up to three times higher, for developing the disorder in some cases.”The study brought together a large international group of investigators from both public and private institutions who were interested in sharing data to accelerate the discovery of genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s disease,” said Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH. “The advantage of this collaborative approach is highlighted in the identification of pathways and gene networks that may significantly increase our understanding of Parkinson’s disease.”To obtain the data, the researchers collaborated with multiple public and private organizations, including the U.S. Department of Defense, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, 23andMe and many international investigators.Affecting millions of people worldwide, Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that causes movement problems, including trembling of the hands, arms, or legs, stiffness of limbs and trunk, slowed movements and problems with posture. Over time, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Although nine genes have been shown to cause rare forms of Parkinson’s disease, scientists continue to search for genetic risk factors to provide a complete genetic picture of the disorder.The researchers confirmed the results in another sample of subjects, including 5,353 patients and 5,551 controls. …

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Climate Change Increases Risk of Crop Slowdown in Next 20 Years

The world faces a small but substantially increased risk over the next two decades of a major slowdown in the growth of global crop yields because of climate change, new research finds.The authors, from Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), say the odds of a major production slowdown of wheat and corn even with a warming climate are not very high. But the risk is about 20 times more significant than it would be without global warming, and it may require planning by organizations that are affected by international food availability and price.”Climate change has substantially increased the prospect that crop production will fail to keep up with rising demand in the next 20 years,” said NCAR scientist Claudia Tebaldi, a co-author of the study.Stanford professor David Lobell said he wanted to study the potential impact of climate change on agriculture in the next two decades because of questions he has received from stakeholders and decision makers in governments and the private sector.”I’m often asked whether climate change will threaten food supply, as if it’s a simple yes or no answer,” Lobell said. “The truth is that over a 10- or 20-year period, it depends largely on how fast Earth warms, and we can’t predict the pace of warming very precisely. So the best we can do is try to determine the odds.”Lobell and Tebaldi used computer models of global climate, as well as data about weather and crops, to calculate the chances that climatic trends would have a negative effect of 10 percent on yields of corn and wheat in the next 20 years. This would have a major impact on food supply. Yields would continue to increase but the slowdown would effectively cut the projected rate of increase by about half at the same time that demand is projected to grow sharply.They found that the likelihood of natural climate shifts causing such a slowdown over the next 20 years is only 1 in 200. But when the authors accounted for human-induced global warming, they found that the odds jumped to 1 in 10 for corn and 1 in 20 for wheat.The study appears in this month’s issue of Environmental Research Letters. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR’s sponsor, and by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).More crops needed worldwideGlobal yields of crops such as corn and wheat have typically increased by about 1-2 percent per year in recent decades, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization projects that global production of major crops will increase by 13 percent per decade through 2030 — likely the fastest rate of increase during the coming century. …

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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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Forests crucial to green growth

The value of forests and tree-based ecosystems extends far beyond carbon sequestration; they are the foundation of sustainable societies.A new report, launched in Jakarta, Indonesia on 21 March — the International Day of Forests — promotes REDD+ and the Green Economy as together providing a new pathway to sustainable development that can benefit all nations. It claims this approach can conserve and even boost the economic and social benefits forests provide to human society.Building Natural Capital — How REDD+ Can Support a Green Economy was developed by the International Resources Panel. It outlines how REDD+ can be integrated into a Green Economy to support pro-poor development while maintaining or increasing forest cover.According to the report, REDD+ needs to be placed in a landscape-scale planning framework that goes beyond forests to consider all sectors of a modern economy and the needs of agriculture, energy, water resources, finance, transport, industry, trade and cities.In this way, REDD+ would add value to other initiatives, such as agroforestry projects that are being implemented within these sectors, and be a critical element in a green economy.The report provides recommendations on how to integrate REDD+ and Green Economy approaches, such as through better coordination, stronger private sector engagement, changes in fiscal incentive frameworks, greater focus on assisting policymakers to understand the role forests play in propping up economies, and equitable benefit sharing.While it is recognized that what lies ahead is a long process of societies adapting to new conditions, REDD+ could be integral to increasing agricultural and forestry outputs to meet future needs, while at the same time enhancing the conservation of forests and ecosystem services.Each year, the International Day of Forests highlights the unique role of forests in the environment and in sustaining livelihoods. The theme this year is Celebrating Forests for Sustainable Development.”It is important day to remind us to save our planet as it is the only one we know which has trees says Tony Simons the Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). “Trees are what made Earth habitable for mammals, and destruction of forests will lead to the ultimate destruction of mammals — including humans. Trees are one of the few things which live longer than humans — a true intergenerational gift. He added.Forests and trees are key to sustainable development. Not only do they store carbon, they support biodiversity, regulate water flows and, reduce soil erosion. Nearly 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests as a source of food, medicines, timber and fuel.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Shaky Hand, Stable Spoon: Device Helps Essential Tremor Patients

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

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HIV drug used to reverse effects of virus that causes cervical cancer

A commonly-used HIV drug has been shown to kill off the human papilloma virus (HPV) that leads to cervical cancer in a world-first clinical trial led by The University of Manchester with Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi.Drs Ian and Lynne Hampson, from the University’s Institute of Cancer Sciences and Dr Innocent Orora Maranga, Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at KNH in Nairobi examined Kenyan women diagnosed with HPV positive early stage cervical cancer who were treated with the antiviral HIV drug lopinavir in Kenya.The study looked at 40 women with both high and low-grade pre-cancerous disease of the cervix and the antiviral drug, normally used orally to treat HIV, was self-applied directly to the cervix as a pessary.The results, due to be presented at two international scientific conferences later this month and next, showed a high proportion of women diagnosed with HPV positive high-grade disease returned to normal following a short course of the new treatment. The findings build on previous peer-reviewed laboratory based research carried out by Drs Hampson and will be submitted to a journal soon.They have been described by an independent leading specialist in gynaecological cancer as very impressive. The 40 women, who were all HPV positive with either high-grade, borderline or low grade disease, were treated with one capsule of the antiviral drug twice a day for 2 weeks.Repeat cervical smears showed a marked improvement within one month of the treatment although after three months, there was a definite response. Out of 23 women initially diagnosed with high-grade disease, 19 (82.6%) had returned to normal and two now had low-grade disease giving an overall positive response in 91.2%.of those treated.Furthermore the 17 women initially diagnosed with borderline or low-grade disease also showed similar improvement. Photographic images of the cervix before and after treatment showed clear regression of the cervical lesions and no adverse reactions were reported.Dr Ian Hampson said: “For an early stage clinical trial the results have exceeded our expectations. We have seen women with high-grade disease revert to a normal healthy cervix within a comparatively short period of time.”We are convinced that further optimization of the dose and treatment period will improve the efficacy still further.”It is our hope that this treatment has the potential to revolutionize the management of this disease most particularly in developing nations such as Kenya.”Cervical cancer is caused by infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) and is more than five times more prevalent in East Africa than the UK. In many developing countries, HPV-related cervical cancer is still one of the most common women’s cancers accounting for approximately 290,000 deaths per year worldwide. The same virus also causes a significant proportion of cancers of the mouth and throat in both men and women and this disease is showing an large increase in developed countries, such as the UK, where it is now more than twice as common as cervical cancer.Dr Lynne Hampson said: “Current HPV Vaccines are prophylactics aimed at preventing the disease rather than curing or treating symptoms. Other than surgery, as yet there is no effective treatment for either HPV infection or the pre-cancerous lesion it causes which is why these results are so exciting.”Further work is needed but it looks as though this might be a potential treatment to stop early stage cervical cancer caused by HPV.”On a global scale HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Although in the developed world vaccination programmes against HPV are well underway, these are not effective in women already infected with the virus.The current vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV and they are expensive, which can limit their use in countries with low resources. …

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Abolition of fixed retirement age called for by new UK report

A report led by a professor at the University of Southampton recommends the worldwide removal of the fixed or default retirement age (DRA). Professor Yehuda Baruch from the Southampton Management School, in collaboration with Dr Susan Sayce from the University of East Anglia and Professor Andros Gregoriou from the University of Hull, has found that, on a global scale, current pension systems are unsustainable.Professor Baruch comments: “We have a global problem with funding pensions, which assume people will retire around their mid-60s. Young people are tending to start work later and in-turn start paying tax and pension contributions later. Older people are living longer, often in to their 90s, creating, in some cases, up to 30 years of retirement to provide for with their cover. This creates a funding gap.”Our study advocates the abolition of the default retirement age worldwide by governments and private companies — allowing people to consider a range of options on how and when to stop work, as well as greater flexibility over their pension plans. This would help ease funding problems.”The UK abolished the default retirement age in 2011, although a small number of organizations can fix their own DRA if they can justify reasons for doing so. However, other countries still have fixed retirement ages. The report authors have used the UK as a case study to examine the benefits and pitfalls of a more flexible approach to retirement.The researchers conducted financial analysis based on Monte Carlo simulation methodology to interrogate pension and other financial data. Their results suggest that where DRA is in place the pensions system is not sustainable in the long-run and recommend ending its use in other countries, in line with the UK approach.Professor Baruch says: “We would like to see a situation where people globally can be much more in control of when they retire. For example, they may want to work into their 70s or even 80s, but perhaps want to change the type or volume of work they take on.”Our study suggests that old age can be seen as holding the prospect of long-term stable contributions to society, rather than a decline or preparation for giving up work altogether — which can lead to pressure on the public purse.”The researchers conclude that if the default retirement age is to be successfully abolished worldwide, there needs to be a shift in cultural attitudes towards older workers and the perception of their value and productivity — as well as a change in the labour market to help older workers step into jobs, as well as out of jobs. …

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Overweight, obese children face high risk of hypertension

Oct. 10, 2013 — High body weight in children and adolescents is strongly associated with the likelihood of hypertension, according to a Kaiser Permanente Southern California study published today in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension.Researchers found that young people who are overweight are twice as likely as their normal-weight peers to have hypertension; moderately obese youths have four times higher risk; and extremely obese children and adolescents are 10 times more likely to have hypertension. The study also found 10 percent of youths who are extremely obese have hypertension and nearly half have occasional blood pressure measurements in the hypertensive range. Earlier studies showed that between 1 to 5 percent of youth have hypertension.”This study’s findings suggest that pediatricians need to be particularly vigilant about screening overweight and obese children for hypertension because high blood pressure can be asymptomatic for many years,” said Corinna Koebnick, PhD, lead author and researcher at Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Department of Research & Evaluation.Researchers examined the electronic health records of nearly 250,000 children aged 6 to 17 years who were enrolled in Kaiser Permanente in Southern California between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2009. The study used the first four consecutive blood pressures measured routinely as a part of clinical care during the 36-month time period.”High blood pressure in children is a serious health condition that can lead to heart and kidney disease,” said researcher David Cuan, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center. “While it is generally recommended that pediatricians measure blood pressure in children three years and older at every health care visit, this study shows the importance of screening overweight and obese young people in particular as they have an increased likelihood of hypertension.”The present results also suggest that the currently used classifications for overweight and obesity in children may be an effective tool for identifying children at high risk for hypertension. For this study, researchers used sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combined with the World Health Organization definitions for overweight and obesity in adults. Being above the threshold for overweight was an indicator for prehypertension, while being above the threshold for obesity was an indicator for hypertension.”This study highlights a great use of existing high-quality data for addressing important scientific questions, in this case, the challenge of screening asymptomatic children for hypertension,” said Matthew F. Daley, MD, a pediatrician and a researcher at the Institute for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “The findings of this study suggest that we should focus our limited resources on the children who need the most timely follow up.”Kaiser Permanente can conduct transformational health research like this in part because it has the largest private patient-centered electronic health record system in the world. …

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New potential for nutrient-rich prairie fruits

Oct. 9, 2013 — Researchers working at the University of Saskatchewan have discovered new potential in prairie fruits, in particular, buffaloberry, chokecherry and sea buckthorn, according to a new study published today in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science. Findings showed that these fruits were nutrient-rich and that the potential food value is high. This is good news for fruit growers in Saskatchewan as these results add further credence to support the development of these fruits for commercial food markets.Share This:”There is increasing interest in the commercial development of these fruits since historically it has been thought they may provide nutritional and health benefits,” explained Dr. Rick Green, Vice President, Technology at POS Bio-Sciences in Saskatoon, co-author of the study. “Our results provide evidence that these fruits do, in fact, possess such nutritional benefits and contain compounds of interest for their health and wellness attributes. Thus, our work supports the commercial development of buffaloberry, chokecherry and sea buckthorn berries.”According to the study:Buffaloberry was high in ascorbic acid, at a level that was greater than 4 times that reported for oranges Chokecherry contained high levels of anthocyanin pigments (anti-oxidants) and can be considered a good source of these compounds with a concentration that was higher than the levels reported for fruits such as cranberry (anthocyanins purported health benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, and cardio-vascular benefits and potential anticarcinogenic properties) Sea buckthorn contained high levels of lipids for a fruit, though the level varies with location and variety. All of the fruits contained high levels of total dietary fibre Potential uses for these native fruits are many. They can be used to produce nutrient-rich ingredients for at-risk Northern Saskatchewan, Canadian and global populations by blending fruits with Saskatchewan cereals and pulses. As ingredients, these materials can be used to improve the food value of traditionally prepared foods and as supplements for nutrient-poor populations. …

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Private tutoring provides little help

Sep. 12, 2013 — Around one sixth of school children in German-speaking Switzerland receive private tutoring. Mostly they seek assistance with mathematics. In contrast to the perceptions of those tutored, tutoring rarely results in any improvement in their marks. This has been demonstrated by a representative study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).How widespread is private tuition, and does it improve marks? To answer this question, a team led by educational scientist Hans-Ulrich Grunder from the University of Basel and the School for Teacher Education FHNW conducted a survey of more than 10,000 pupils in classes 5 to 9 at schools in German-speaking Switzerland. Their marks and abilities were compared at three-month intervals.Of those surveyed, 17% received private tuition. This figure is slightly below that of other European countries. Girls were more likely to receive tutoring than boys (19% compared to 16%, with the most marked difference at the primary school level (21% compared to 17%)). The reason is that most assistance is sought for mathematics (69%). …

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Pumping draws arsenic toward a big-city aquifer

Sep. 11, 2013 — Naturally occurring arsenic pollutes wells across the world, especially in south and southeast Asia, where an estimated 100 million people are exposed to levels that can cause heart, liver and kidney problems, diabetes and cancer. Now, scientists working in Vietnam have shown that massive pumping of groundwater from a clean aquifer is slowly but surely drawing the poison into the water. The study, done near the capital city of Hanoi, confirms suspicions that booming water usage there and elsewhere could eventually threaten millions more people.The study appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.”This is the first time we have been able to show that a previously clean aquifer has been contaminated,” said lead author Alexander van Geen, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The amount of water being pumped really dominates the system. Arsenic is moving.” The good news, he said: “It is not moving as fast as we had feared it might.” This will buy time — perhaps decades–for water managers to try and deal with the problem, he said.Arsenic is found in rocks across the world, but it seems to pollute groundwater only under specific conditions. The huge scale across south Asia came clear only in the 1990s, when researchers from universities, nonprofit agencies and governments started testing wells systematically. Van Geen has been working in the field for 13 years, and is leading a new collaborative effort in the region under the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.Researchers link natural arsenic pollution in south Asia to vast amounts of sediment eroding off the Himalayan plateau into basins below, from Pakistan and India to China and Vietnam. The constant fresh supply reacts rapidly with local water, though the exact mechanisms of arsenic release have remained unclear, along with the potential effects of groundwater pumping. The new study clarifies some of the chemical processes, and shows clearly for the first time that human activity can widen the problem.Hanoi, like many metropolitan areas, is mushrooming in size, and using ever more groundwater. …

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Text messages make it easier for kids to misbehave

Sep. 9, 2013 — Study of more than 76,000 text messages shows that texting about delinquent topics predicts youths’ involvement in antisocial behavior.Should parents and teachers worry that teenagers’ texting or SMS messaging may lead to involvement in more antisocial activities? Yes, says a study led by Samuel Ehrenreich of the University of Texas at Dallas and published in Springer’s Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Text messaging between adolescents about antisocial topics and behavior does in fact predict more rule breaking and aggression.The study provides a unique window into the social lives of adolescents, as it is the first to directly, naturally and unobtrusively observe text messaging between adolescents and their peers, and how it relates to later involvement in antisocial activities. 172 ninth-grade students from 47 American schools sent and received nearly 6,000,000 text messages during the yearlong study via Blackberry devices. The messages were archived, and four days of text messaging per participant were analyzed for discussions about the purchase or use of illegal substances, property crime, physical aggression and rule breaking. The youths, their parents and teachers rated their behavior before and after the ninth grade year.Ehrenreich and his team found that participants did use text messages to coordinate antisocial activities, often occurring within the school. Texting with a peer about rule-breaking activities may not only provide easy access to information about illegal and antisocial behavior, but may also reinforce the notion that these activities are accepted within the peer group. Although the research team noted that text messaging also enhanced prosocial communication, they believe that the private nature of text messaging provided an ideal forum to plan and discuss antisocial activities beyond the realm of adult supervision.The research team pointed out that youth who frequently engaged in antisocial SMS discussions may already be on a trajectory of increasing antisocial behavior. In line with the hypothesis suggesting that grouping deviant youth together increases their involvement in antisocial activities, communication about antisocial topics with deviant peers was found to be associated with increased rule-breaking and aggressive behavior.Antisocial behavior typically includes activities that violate legal or societal rules, or which are harmful to the victims of these actions. …

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Using harsh verbal discipline with teens found to be harmful

Sep. 4, 2013 — Many American parents yell or shout at their teenagers. A new longitudinal study has found that using such harsh verbal discipline in early adolescence can be harmful to teens later. Instead of minimizing teens’ problematic behavior, harsh verbal discipline may actually aggravate it.The study, from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan, appears in the journal Child Development.Harsh verbal discipline happens when parents use psychological force to cause a child to experience emotional pain or discomfort in an effort to correct or control behavior. It can vary in severity from yelling and shouting at a child to insulting and using words to humiliate. Many parents shift from physical to verbal discipline as their children enter adolescence, and harsh verbal discipline is not uncommon. A nationally representative survey found that about 90 percent of American parents reported one or more instances of using harsh verbal discipline with children of all ages; the rate of the more severe forms of harsh verbal discipline (swearing and cursing, calling names) directed at teens was 50 percent.Few studies have looked at harsh verbal discipline in adolescence. This study found that when parents use it in early adolescence, teens suffer detrimental outcomes later. The children of mothers and fathers who used harsh verbal discipline when they were 13 suffered more depressive symptoms between ages 13 and 14 than their peers who weren’t disciplined in this way; they were also more likely to have conduct problems such as misbehaving at school, lying to parents, stealing, or fighting.Moreover, the study found that not only does harsh verbal discipline appear to be ineffective at addressing behavior problems in youths, it actually appears to increase such behaviors. Parents’ hostility increases the risk of delinquency by lowering inhibition and fostering anger, irritability, and belligerence in adolescents, the researchers found.The effect went the other way, too. …

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Study reveals the face of sleep deprivation

Aug. 30, 2013 — A new study finds that sleep deprivation affects facial features such as the eyes, mouth and skin, and these features function as cues of sleep loss to other people.Results show that the faces of sleep-deprived individuals were perceived as having more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes and darker circles under the eyes. Sleep deprivation also was associated with paler skin, more wrinkles or fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth. People also looked sadder when sleep-deprived than after normal sleep, and sadness was related to looking fatigued.”Since faces contain a lot of information on which humans base their interactions with each other, how fatigued a person appears may affect how others behave toward them,” said Tina Sundelin, MSc, lead author and doctoral student in the department of psychology at Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden. “This is relevant not only for private social interactions, but also official ones such as with health care professionals and in public safety.”The study, which appears in the September issue of the journal Sleep, was conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Ten subjects were photographed on two separate occasions: after eight hours of normal sleep and after 31 hours of sleep deprivation. The photographs were taken in the laboratory at 2:30 p.m. on both occasions. Forty participants rated the 20 facial photographs with respect to 10 facial cues, fatigue and sadness.According to the authors, face perception involves a specialized neuronal network and is one of the most developed visual perceptual skills in humans. Facial appearance can affect judgments of attributes such as trustworthiness, aggressiveness and competence.

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Why smokers gain weight when they quit smoking: Changes in intestinal flora

Aug. 29, 2013 — Most smokers put on a couple of kilos when they quit smoking. This is not due to an increased calorie intake, but to a change in the composition of the intestinal flora after quitting smoking, as a study supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) suggests.When smokers wave goodbye to their cigarettes, eighty per cent of them put on seven kilos on average. Their weight increases even if their calorie intake remains the same or even falls compared to the level before quitting smoking. What is the reason for this weight gain?Researchers working with Gerhard Rogler of Zurich University Hospital attribute the cause to a changed composition of the bacterial diversity in the intestine. As they recently showed in a study in PLoS One, the bacterial strains that also prevail in the intestinal flora of obese persons take the upper hand in people giving up smoking.Comparison of stool samplesRogler and his colleagues of the Swiss IBD cohort study examined the genetic material of intestinal bacteria found in the faeces and studied stool samples which they had received from twenty different persons over a period of nine weeks — four samples per person. The test persons included five non-smokers, five smokers and ten persons who had quit smoking one week after the start of the study.While the bacterial diversity in the faeces of smokers and non-smokers changed only little over time, giving up smoking resulted in the biggest shift in the composition of the microbial inhabitants of the intestines. The Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes fractions increased at the expense of representatives of the Firmicutes and Actinobacteria phyla. At the same time, the test subjects who had quit smoking gained an average of 2.2 kilos in weight although their eating and drinking habits remained the same (with the exception that, towards the end of the study, they drank on average a little more alcohol than before quitting smoking).More efficient utilisationTheir results reflected those seen in previous studies conducted with mice, says Rogler. When other scientists transplanted the faeces of obese mice into the intestines of normal-weight mice some years ago, they saw that both the fractions of the Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes in the gut flora as well as the weight of the mice treated increased. …

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From cancer treatment to ion thruster: The newest little idea for nanosat micro rockets

Aug. 29, 2013 — Nanosatellites are smartphone-sized spacecraft that can perform simple, yet valuable, space missions. Dozens of these little vehicles are now tirelessly orbiting Earth performing valuable functions for NASA, the Department of Defense and even private companies.Nanosatellites borrow many of their components from terrestrial gadgets: miniaturized cameras, wireless radios and GPS receivers that have been perfected for hand-held devices are also perfect for spacecraft. However, according to Michigan Technological University’s L. Brad King, there is at least one technology need that is unique to space: “Even the best smartphones don’t have miniaturized rocket engines, so we need to develop them from scratch.”Miniature rockets aren’t needed to launch a nanosatellite from Earth. The small vehicles can hitchhike with a regular rocket that is going that way anyway. But because they are hitchhikers, these nanosats don’t always get dropped off in their preferred location. Once in space, a nanosatellite might need some type of propulsion to move it from its drop-off point into its desired orbit. This is where the micro rocket engine comes in.For the last few years, researchers around the world have been trying to build such rockets using microscopic hollow needles to electrically spray thin jets of fluid, which push the spacecraft in the opposite direction. The fluid propellant is a special chemical known as an ionic liquid. …

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Loan debt shapes students’ college years, experiences

Aug. 10, 2013 — An Indiana University study found that college students’ experiences are largely shaped by the debt they accrue, with debt-free students more likely to live the “play hard” lifestyle often associated with the college years, where social lives can trump academics.Sociologist Daniel Rudel said this is one of the first studies to examine how student loan debt affects students’ college experiences. He and colleague Natasha Yurk, also a graduate student in the Department of Sociology in IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences, found “real and significant differences in experiences,” with students falling fairly easily into one of three categories.• Play hard.Students without loan debt appeared most likely to live a lifestyle characterized by relatively little time studying but also characterized by a rich social life. Students tended to be much more involved in extracurricular activities and spent more time partying, developing relationships and networks that could last long after college.• Disengaged students.Some students with debt appeared to see it as a liability that kept them from partaking in campus life. They spent relatively little time on campus activities, including studying.• Serious students.Some students with debt appeared to accept the challenge and responsibility of the debt. They studied more than the other two categories of students, worked but also participated in extracurricular activities to prepare themselves for a good job after graduation. These students did not party much.”These patterns could affect the social connections and networking students develop in college, where these relationships can lead to friendships, employment, marriage partners and other benefits,” Rudel said.Rudel and Yurk discussed their study, “Responsibility or Liability? Student Loan Debt and Time Use in College,” in New York at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the American Sociological Association’s 108th annual meeting.The researchers examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, housed in the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. Students interviewed from 1999 to 2003 attended one of 28 selective U.S. …

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A Malaysian beauty: Newly described endemic herb species under threat of extinction

July 10, 2013 — A new species of rare and beautiful plant has been described from the biodiversity rich Peninsular Malaysia. Ridleyandra chuana is endemic to the region and only known from two small montane forest populations. The conservation status of this recently described delicate flower is assessed as Endangered due to its restricted distribution.The new species was described and illustrated in the open access journal PhytoKeys.Ridleyandra chuana is a perennial herb with a woody usually unbranched stem crowned by an asymmetrical rosette of dark green leaves covered in fine hairs. The beautiful and delicate cone-like flowers are white with dark maroon purple stripes. They rarely appear in more than two in one go usually flowering in succession. Ridleyandra chuana grows on moss-covered granite rock embedded in soil or on low moss-covered granite boulders, in extremely damp, deeply shaded conditions on steep slopes in valleys.Although the species is only formally described now, it was in fact first encountered as early as 1932 at Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. However, it was only in 1999 when another population was discovered by L.S.L. Chua on Gunung Ulu Kali, Pahang, that sufficient material was available for its description. Since then, both these localities have been revisited and the Gunung Ulu Kali population is now the focus of conservation.The new species is named in honour of Dr Lillian Swee Lian Chua, botanist and conservationist, who first discovered this species on Gunung Ulu Kali while making an ecological inventory of the summit flora. Under the IUCN criteria, this species is assessed as Endangered because it is known from two localities, one of which is threatened, and only 130 known individuals.”The population at Fraser’s Hill falls within a Totally Protected Area and consists of about 30 plants that grow in an undisturbed site away from tourist trails and is too remote to be affected by development. …

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School policies reduce student drinking –- if they’re perceived to be enforced

July 9, 2013 — “Just say no” has been many a parent’s mantra when it comes to talking to their children about drugs or alcohol. Schools echo that with specific policies against illicit use on school grounds. But do those school policies work?University of Washington professor of social work Richard Catalano and colleagues studied whether anti-alcohol policies in public and private schools in Washington state and Australia’s Victoria state were effective for eighth- and ninth-graders.What they found was that each school’s particular policy mattered less than the students’ perceived enforcement of it. So, even if a school had a suspension or expulsion policy, if students felt the school didn’t enforce it then they were more likely to drink on campus. But, even if a school’s policy was less harsh — such as requiring counseling — students were less likely to drink at school if they believed school officials would enforce it.”Whatever your school policy is, lax enforcement is related to more drinking,” Catalano said.The study was published recently in the journal Health Education Research.The results were similar in Washington, where the legal drinking age is 21 and schools tend to have a zero-tolerance approach, and Victoria, Australia, where the legal drinking age is 18 and policies are more about minimizing harm.In the study, 44 percent of Victoria eighth-graders and 22 percent of Washington eighth-graders reported drinking alcohol. Victoria students also reported higher rates of binge drinking and alcohol-related harms.Apart from perceptions about enforcement, harmful behaviors in both states were reduced when students believed policy violators would likely be counseled by a teacher on the dangers of alcohol use, rather than expelled or suspended.”Schools should focus on zero tolerance and abstinence in primary and early middle school, but sometime between middle school and high school they have to blend in zero tolerance with harm minimization,” said Catalano, director of the Social Development Research Group at the UW School of Social Work and principal investigator for the International Youth Development Study. “By the time they get into high school they need new strategies.”Those strategies could include talking to a teacher or being referred to treatment. The likelihood of binge drinking was reduced if students received an abstinence alcohol message or a harm minimization message, and if they believed teachers would talk to them about the dangers of alcohol. Catalano said such remediation policies are an important predictor of less alcohol use among ninth-graders.He said the study shows harsh punishment for drinking on school grounds, such as calling the police or expelling the student, doesn’t inhibit alcohol use on campus. Instead, long-term negative impacts of expulsion mean students feel disconnected from school and may subsequently drink more. …

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Factory insurance would fight blight

June 27, 2013 — Automakers and other private firms should be required by law to carry insurance policies to pay for tearing down their factories and buildings, recommends a hard-hitting report from Michigan State University’s Center for Community and Economic Development.Such a requirement would prevent commercial and industrial companies from “walking away” from shuttered facilities — a problem plaguing Michigan and the rest of the nation, said Rex LaMore, director of the CCED and lead author on the study.In the automotive industry alone, there are 135 abandoned plants nationwide. That’s not to mention the vacant gas stations, apartment buildings and many other decaying structures that are blighting both rural and urban communities, LaMore said.”There needs to be a new approach for dealing with abandoned property, because local residents not only pay a price by losing jobs and the resulting ripple effects on the local economy, but the community can be left with property that is unsafe, vulnerable to crime, costly and unappealing to other potential employers,” LaMore said.Currently, facility owners can walk away without dismantling the structure and clearing the property for future use. Responsibility often falls to local municipalities to redevelop or clean up the abandoned property before they can, if ever, attract new companies.The report calls for federal or state-by-state legislation requiring new commercial and industrial projects to carry insurance policies that secure financial assurances for any potential future dismantling, removal and restoration of abandoned properties. LaMore said the recommendation applies only to newly built — not existing — facilities.The report also supports the creation of a private sector industry that develops and maintains insurance that can implement abandoned property clean-ups.The idea is not without precedent. In various industries, including railway, companies buy an insurance policy on the land where they have business activity. Further, the practice of requiring people and businesses to buy insurance can be seen, at the federal level, for health care and properties within a floodplain, and, at the state level, for automobiles.LaMore said the proposal is not without disadvantages. It could, for example, discourage mixed-use structures and increase construction costs.But the potential benefits outweigh the disadvantages — particularly by ending the pattern of abandoned buildings and the economic drag that can have on a community, he said.Daniel P. Gilmartin agrees. Gilmartin is executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League, which represents cities, villages and townships — many of which are dealing with abandoned factories and buildings.”Blighted property is a significant issue for Michigan communities that impacts safety, property values and quality of life,” Gilmartin said. “It is a problem we must tackle if we’re going to have vibrant places that attract talent. …

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