Climate change and air pollution will combine to curb food supplies

Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution — specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops.A new study involving researchers at MIT shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security.The study looked in detail at global production of four leading food crops — rice, wheat, corn, and soy — that account for more than half the calories humans consume worldwide. It predicts that effects will vary considerably from region to region, and that some of the crops are much more strongly affected by one or the other of the factors: For example, wheat is very sensitive to ozone exposure, while corn is much more adversely affected by heat.The research was carried out by Colette Heald, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT, former CEE postdoc Amos Tai, and Maria van Martin at Colorado State University. Their work is described this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.Heald explains that while it’s known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can damage plants and reduce crop yields, “nobody has looked at these together.” And while rising temperatures are widely discussed, the impact of air quality on crops is less recognized.The effects are likely to vary widely by region, the study predicts. In the United States, tougher air-quality regulations are expected to lead to a sharp decline in ozone pollution, mitigating its impact on crops. But in other regions, the outcome “will depend on domestic air-pollution policies,” Heald says. “An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields.”Overall, with all other factors being equal, warming may reduce crop yields globally by about 10 percent by 2050, the study found. But the effects of ozone pollution are more complex — some crops are more strongly affected by it than others — which suggests that pollution-control measures could play a major role in determining outcomes.Ozone pollution can also be tricky to identify, Heald says, because its damage can resemble other plant illnesses, producing flecks on leaves and discoloration.Potential reductions in crop yields are worrisome: The world is expected to need about 50 percent more food by 2050, the authors say, due to population growth and changing dietary trends in the developing world. So any yield reductions come against a backdrop of an overall need to increase production significantly through improved crop selections and farming methods, as well as expansion of farmland.While heat and ozone can each damage plants independently, the factors also interact. For example, warmer temperatures significantly increase production of ozone from the reactions, in sunlight, of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. …

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Overweight, obese preschoolers lose more weight when parent is also treated

Primary care treatment of overweight and obese preschoolers works better when treatment targets both parent and child compared to when only the child is targeted, according to research published this week in Pediatrics and conducted at the University at Buffalo and Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.Children enrolled in this study were overweight or obese and had one parent who participated in the study who also was overweight or obese, according to body mass index (BMI) measurements, calculated based on height and weight.During the course of the study, children who were treated concurrently with a parent experienced more appropriate weight gain while growing normally in height. Children in the intervention group gained an average of 12 pounds over 24 months compared to children in the control group who gained almost 16 pounds. This more appropriate weight accrual resulted in a decrease of 0.21 percent over BMI from baseline to 24 months.Parents in the intervention group lost an average of 14 pounds, resulting in a BMI decrease of over 2 units while the weight of parents in the control group was essentially unchanged.”Our results show that the traditional approach to overweight prevention and treatment focusing only on the child is obsolete,” says Teresa A. Quattrin, MD, senior author and UB Distinguished Professor, chair of the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and pediatrician-in-chief at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.”This study is important because while we know that it is critical to begin treating overweight or obese children early, there has been limited data on what works best in preschool-aged children,” she says.The research was part of Buffalo Healthy Tots, a novel family-based, weight control intervention in preschool children that Quattrin directed in urban and suburban pediatric practices in Western New York.When funded in 2010 with a $2.6 million grant by the National Institutes of Health, Buffalo Healthy Tots was the first of its kind in the U.S. The goal was to compare traditional approaches where only the child is treated to family-based, behavioral treatment implemented in pediatric primary care practices.The study of 96 children ages 2-5 found that when overweight and obese youth and their parents were treated in a primary care setting with behavioral intervention, parents and children experienced greater decreases in body mass index (BMI) than did the children who received the traditional treatment, focusing only on the child. Weight loss for both parent and child was sustained after a 12-month followup.Quattrin notes that an important feature of the study was the use of practice enhancement assistants, trained in psychology, nutrition or exercise science. These assistants worked with the families both during treatment and education sessions and afterward by phone.The intervention was delivered through the parents, who were instructed about the appropriate number of food servings for children and appropriate calorie values. They were taught to avoid “high-energy” foods, such as those with high sugar content, more than 5 grams of fat per serving or artificial sweeteners.Parents monitored the number of servings in each food category, using a simple diary to cross off icons pertaining to the food consumed or type of physical activity performed. Parents also were taught to record their own and their child’s weight on a simple graph.Weight loss goals for children were 0.5 to 1 pound per week and for parents it was at least 1 pound per week.Quattrin says that the study results suggest that overweight or obese children and their parents can be successfully treated in the primary care setting with the assistance of practice enhancers.”Instead of the more traditional approach of referring these patients to a specialty clinic, the patient-centered medical home in the pediatrician’s office may be an ideal setting for implementing these family-based treatments,” she says.”We have entered a new era where students, trainees and specialists have to learn how to better interact with primary care providers and implement care coordination. This paper suggests that, indeed, family-based strategies for any chronic disorder, including obesity, can be successful in primary care. …

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Common herbal supplement can cause dangerous interactions with prescription drugs

St. John’s wort, the leading complementary and alternative treatment for depression in the United States, can be dangerous when taken with many commonly prescribed drugs, according to a study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.The researchers reported that the herbal supplement can reduce the concentration of numerous drugs in the body, including oral contraceptive, blood thinners, cancer chemotherapy and blood pressure medications, resulting in impaired effectiveness and treatment failure.”Patients may have a false sense of safety with so-called ‘natural’ treatments like St. John’s wort,” said Sarah Taylor, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “And it is crucial for physicians to know the dangers of ‘natural’ treatments and to communicate the risks to patients effectively.” The study is published in the current online issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.To determine how often S. John’s wort (SJW) was being prescribed or taken with other medications, the team conducted a retrospective analysis of nationally representative data collected by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 1993 to 2010. The research team found the use of SJW in potentially harmful combinations in 28 percent of the cases reviewed.Possible drug interactions can include serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that causes high levels of the chemical serotonin to accumulate in your body, heart disease due to impaired efficacy of blood pressure medications or unplanned pregnancy due to contraceptive failure, Taylor said.Limitations of the study are that only medications recorded by the physician were analyzed. However, she said the rate of SJW interactions may actually be underestimated because the database did not include patients who were using SJW but did not tell their doctor.”Labeling requirements for helpful supplements such as St. John’s wort need to provide appropriate cautions and risk information,” Taylor said, adding that France has banned the use of St. John’s wort products and several other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada, are in the process of including drug-herb interaction warnings on St. John’s wort products.”Doctors also need to be trained to always ask if the patient is taking any supplements, vitamins, minerals or herbs, especially before prescribing any of the common drugs that might interact with St. …

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Vulnerability of sharks as collateral damage in commercial fishing shown by study

A new study that examined the survival rates of 12 different shark species when captured as unintentional bycatch in commercial longline fishing operations found large differences in survival rates across the 12 species, with bigeye thresher, dusky, and scalloped hammerhead being the most vulnerable. The study, led by researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and UM Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, provides new information to consider for future conservation measures for sharks in the Northwest Atlantic. The unintentional capture of a fish species when targeting another species, known as bycatch, is one of the largest threats facing many marine fish populations.Researchers from UM and the National Marine Fisheries Service analyzed over 10 years of shark bycatch data from the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico tuna and swordfish longline fisheries to examine how survival rates of sharks were affected by fishing duration, hook depth, sea temperature, animal size and the target fish. Some species, such as the tiger shark, exhibited over 95% survival, whereas other species survival was significantly lower, in the 20-40% range, such as night shark and scalloped hammerheads.”Our study found that the differences in how longline fishing is actually conducted, such as the depth, duration, and time-of-day that the longlines are fished can be a major driver of shark survival, depending on the species,” said UM Rosenstiel School Ph.D student and lead author Austin Gallagher. “At-vessel mortality is a crucial piece of the puzzle in terms of assessing the vulnerability of these open-ocean populations, some of which are highly threatened.”The researchers also generated overall vulnerability rankings of species taking into account not only their survival, but also reproductive potential. They found that species most at risk were those with both very slow reproductive potential and unusual body features, such as hammerheads and thresher sharks. The paper’s authors suggest that bycatch likely played an important role in the decline of scalloped hammerhead species in the Northwest Atlantic, which has been considered for increased international and national protections, such as the U.S. Endangered Species List.The researchers suggest that high at-vessel mortality, slow maturity, and specialized body structures combine for the perfect mixture to become extinction-prone.”Our results suggest that some shark species are being fished beyond their ability to replace themselves,” said UM Research Assistant Professor Neil Hammerschlag. “Certain sharks, such as big eye threshers and scalloped hammerheads, are prone to rapidly dying on the line once caught and techniques that reduce their interactions with fishing gear in the first place may be the best strategy for conserving these species.”The study, titled “Vulnerability of oceanic sharks as pelagic longline bycatch” was published online in the open-access journal Global Ecology and Conservation.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Leaf-mining insects destroyed with the dinosaurs, others quickly appeared

After the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous period that triggered the dinosaurs’ extinction and ushered in the Paleocene, leaf-mining insects in the western United States completely disappeared. Only a million years later, at Mexican Hat, in southeastern Montana, fossil leaves show diverse leaf-mining traces from new insects that were not present during the Cretaceous, according to paleontologists.”Our results indicate both that leaf-mining diversity at Mexican Hat is even higher than previously recognized, and equally importantly, that none of the Mexican Hat mines can be linked back to the local Cretaceous mining fauna,” said Michael Donovan, graduate student in geosciences, Penn State.Insects that eat leaves produce very specific types of damage. One type is from leaf miners — insect larvae that live in the leaves and tunnel for food, leaving distinctive feeding paths and patterns of droppings.Donovan, Peter Wilf, professor of geosciences, Penn State, and colleagues looked at 1,073 leaf fossils from Mexican Hat for mines. They compared these with more than 9,000 leaves from the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, from the Hell Creek Formation in southwestern North Dakota, and with more than 9,000 Paleocene leaves from the Fort Union Formation in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The researchers present their results in today’s (July 24) issue of PLOS ONE.”We decided to focus on leaf miners because they are typically host specific, feeding on only a few plant species each,” said Donovan. “Each miner also leaves an identifiable mining pattern.”The researchers found nine different mine-damage types at Mexican Hat attributable to the larvae of moths, wasps and flies, and six of these damage types were unique to the site.The researchers were unsure whether the high diversity of leaf miners at Mexican Hat compared to other early Paleocene sites, where there is little or no leaf mining, was caused by insects that survived the extinction event in refugia — areas where organisms persist during adverse conditions — or were due to range expansions of insects from somewhere else during the early Paleocene.However, with further study, the researchers found no evidence of the survival of any leaf miners over the Cretaceous-Paleocene boundary, suggesting an even more total collapse of terrestrial food webs than has been recognized previously.”These results show that the high insect damage diversity at Mexican Hat represents an influx of novel insect herbivores during the early Paleocene and not a refugium for Cretaceous leaf miners,” said Wilf. “The new herbivores included a startling diversity for any time period, and especially for the classic post-extinction disaster interval.”Insect extinction across the Cretaceous-Paleocene boundary may have been directly caused by catastrophic conditions after the asteroid impact and by the disappearance of host plant species. While insect herbivores constantly need leaves to survive, plants can remain dormant as seeds in the ground until more auspicious circumstances occur.The low-diversity flora at Mexican Hat is typical for the area in the early Paleocene, so what caused the high insect damage diversity?Insect outbreaks are associated with a rapid population increase of a single insect species, so the high diversity of mining damage seen in the Mexican Hat fossils makes the possibility of an outbreak improbable.The researchers hypothesized that the leaf miners that are seen in the Mexican Hat fossils appeared in that area because of a transient warming event, a number of which occurred during the early Paleocene.”Previous studies have shown a correlation between temperature and insect damage diversity in the fossil record, possibly caused by evolutionary radiations or range shifts in response to a warmer climate,” said Donovan. “Current evidence suggests that insect herbivore extinction decreased with increasing distance from the asteroid impact site in Mexico, so pools of surviving insects would have existed elsewhere that could have provided a source for the insect influx that we observed at Mexican Hat.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. The original article was written by A’ndrea Eluse Messer. …

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Slow walking speed, memory complaints can predict dementia

A study involving nearly 27,000 older adults on five continents found that nearly 1 in 10 met criteria for pre-dementia based on a simple test that measures how fast people walk and whether they have cognitive complaints. People who tested positive for pre-dementia were twice as likely as others to develop dementia within 12 years. The study, led by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center, was published online on July 16, 2014 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.The new test diagnoses motoric cognitive risk syndrome (MCR). Testing for the newly described syndrome relies on measuring gait speed (our manner of walking) and asking a few simple questions about a patient’s cognitive abilities, both of which take just seconds. The test is not reliant on the latest medical technology and can be done in a clinical setting, diagnosing people in the early stages of the dementia process. Early diagnosis is critical because it allows time to identify and possibly treat the underlying causes of the disease, which may delay or even prevent the onset of dementia in some cases.”In many clinical and community settings, people don’t have access to the sophisticated tests — biomarker assays, cognitive tests or neuroimaging studies — used to diagnose people at risk for developing dementia,” said Joe Verghese, M.B.B.S., professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and of medicine at Einstein, chief of geriatrics at Einstein and Montefiore, and senior author of the Neurology paper. “Our assessment method could enable many more people to learn if they’re at risk for dementia, since it avoids the need for complex testing and doesn’t require that the test be administered by a neurologist. The potential payoff could be tremendous — not only for individuals and their families, but also in terms of healthcare savings for society. All that’s needed to assess MCR is a stopwatch and a few questions, so primary care physicians could easily incorporate it into examinations of their older patients.”The U.S. …

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Researchers work to save endangered New England cottontail

Scientists with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station are working to restore New Hampshire and Maine’s only native rabbit after new research based on genetic monitoring has found that in the last decade, cottontail populations in northern New England have become more isolated and seen a 50 percent contraction of their range.The endangered New England cottontail is now is at risk of becoming extinct in the region, according to NH Agricultural Experiment Station researchers at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture who believe that restoring habitats is the key to saving the species.”The New England cottontail is a species of great conservation concern in the Northeast. This is our only native rabbit and is an integral component of the native New England wildlife. Maintaining biodiversity gives resilience to our landscape and ecosystems,” said NHAES researcher Adrienne Kovach, research associate professor of natural resources at UNH.New England cottontails have been declining for decades. However, NHAES researchers have found that in the last decade, the New England cottontail population in New Hampshire and Maine has contracted by 50 percent; a decade ago, cottontails were found as far north as Cumberland, Maine.The majority of research on New England cottontails has come out of UNH, much of it under the leadership of John Litvaitis, professor of wildlife ecology, who has studied the New England cottontail for three decades. Kovach’s research expands on this knowledge by using DNA analysis to provide new information on the cottontail’s status, distribution, genetic diversity, and dispersal ecology.The greatest threat and cause of the decline of the New England cottontail is the reduction and fragmentation of their habitat, Kovach said. Fragmentation of habitats occurs when the cottontail’s habitat is reduced or eliminated due to the maturing of forests or land development. Habitats also can become fragmented by roads or natural landscape features, such as bodies of water.”Cottontails require thicketed habitats, which progress from old fields to young forests. Once you have a more mature forest, the cottontail habitat is reduced. A lot of other species rely on these thicket habitats, including bobcats, birds, and reptiles. Many thicket-dependent species are on decline, and the New England cottontail is a representative species for this kind of habitat and its conservation,” Kovach said.Kovach explained that for cottontail and most animal populations to be healthy and grow, it is important for adult animals to leave the place where they were born and relocate to a new habitat, which is known as dispersal. …

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‘Lost in translation’ issues in Chinese medicine addressed by researchers

Millions of people in the West today utilize traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, herbs, massage and nutritional therapies. Yet only a few U.S. schools that teach Chinese medicine require Chinese-language training and only a handful of Chinese medical texts have so far been translated into English.Given the complexity of the language and concepts in these texts, there is a need for accurate, high-quality translations, say researchers at UCLA’s Center for East-West Medicine. To that end, the center has published a document that includes a detailed discussion of the issues involved in Chinese medical translation, which is designed to help students, educators, practitioners, researchers, publishers and translators evaluate and digest Chinese medical texts with greater sensitivity and comprehension.”This publication aims to raise awareness among the many stakeholders involved with the translation of Chinese medicine,” said principal investigator and study author Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, founder and director of the UCLA center.The 15-page document, “Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine” was developed and written by a UCLA team that included a doctor, an anthropologist, a China scholar and a translator. It appears in the current online edition of the Journal of Integrative Medicine.Authors Sonya Pritzker, a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner and anthropologist, and Hanmo Zhang, a China scholar, hope the publication will promote communication in the field and play a role in the development of thorough, accurate translations.The document highlights several important topics in the translation of Chinese medical texts, including the history of Chinese medical translations, which individuals make ideal translators, and other translation-specific issues, such as the delicate balance of focusing translations on the source-document language while considering the language it will be translated into.It also addresses issues of technical terminology, period-specific language and style, and historical and cultural perspective. For example, depending on historical circumstances and language use, some translations may be geared toward a Western scientific audience or, alternately, it may take a more natural and spiritual tone. The authors note that it is sometimes helpful to include dual translations, such as “windfire eye/acute conjunctivitis,” in order to facilitate a link between traditional Chinese medical terms and biomedical diagnoses.The final section of the document calls for further discussion and action, specifically in the development of international collaborative efforts geared toward the creation of more rigorous guidelines for the translation of Chinese medicine texts.”Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine,” was inspired by the late renowned translator and scholar Michael Heim, a professor in the UCLA departments of comparative literature and Slavic studies. A master of 12 languages, he is best known for his translation into English of Czech author Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” The new UCLA document is dedicated to him.The document, the authors say, was influenced in large part by the American Council of Learned Societies’ “Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts,” which are intended to promote communications in the social sciences across language boundaries. It was also influenced by Pritzker’s longstanding anthropological study of translation in Chinese medicine, which is detailed in her new book, “Living Translation: Language and the Search for Resonance in U.S. …

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University of Pennsylvania’s Mesothelioma Program Receives $8 Million Grant from NCI

The National Cancer Institute awarded an $8 million grant to the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine to study the effects of photodynamic light therapy (PDT) in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The grant will fund a clinical trial and additional studies looking at the effects of PDT on the patient’s immune response, the mesothelioma tumor cell , and the blood vessels surrounding the tumor.Dr. Eli Glatstein is the principal investigator of the program. He is also the professor and vice chair of Radiation Oncology, and member of Penn’s Mesothelioma and Pleural Program. According to Dr. Glatstein, “This trial represents a major step in understanding the combination of treatment modalities that will offer patients the best hope for survival and extended remission.”The study expects to …

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Intensity of hurricanes: New study helps improve predictions of storm intensity

They are something we take very seriously in Florida — hurricanes. The names roll off the tongue like a list of villains — Andrew, Charlie, Frances and Wilma.In the past 25 years or so, experts have gradually been improving prediction of the course a storm may take. This is thanks to tremendous advancements in computer and satellite technology. While we still have the “cone of uncertainty” we’ve become familiar with watching television weather reports, today’s models are more accurate than they used to be.The one area, however, where there is still much more to be researched and learned is in predicting just how intense a storm may be. While hurricane hunter aircraft can help determine wind speed, velocity, water temperature and other data, the fact is we often don’t know why or how a storm gets stronger or weaker. There has been virtually no progress in hurricane intensity forecasting during the last quarter century.But, thanks to new research being conducted, all that’s about to change.”The air-water interface — whether it had significant waves or significant spray — is a big factor in storm intensity,” said Alex Soloviev, Ph.D., a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center. “Hurricanes gain heat energy through the interface and they lose mechanical energy at the interface.”Soloviev is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (UM RSMAS) and a Fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS.) He and his fellow researchers used a computational fluid dynamics model to simulate microstructure of the air-sea interface under hurricane force winds. In order to verify these computer-generated results, the group conducted experiments at the UM’s Rosenstiel School Air-Sea Interaction Salt Water Tank (ASIST) where they simulated wind speed and ocean surface conditions found during hurricanes.The study “The Air-Sea Interface and Surface Stress Under Tropical Cyclones” was published in the June 16, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Soloviev was the lead author of this study, which was conducted by a multi-institutional team including Roger Lukas (University of Hawaii), Mark Donelan and Brian Haus (UM RSMAS), and Isaac Ginis (University of Rhode Island.)The researchers were surprised at what they found. Under hurricane force wind, the air-water interface was producing projectiles fragmenting into sub millimeter scale water droplets. …

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New brain pathways for understanding type 2 diabetes and obesity uncovered

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified neural pathways that increase understanding of how the brain regulates body weight, energy expenditure, and blood glucose levels — a discovery that can lead to new therapies for treating Type 2 diabetes and obesity.The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that melanocortin 4 receptors (MC4Rs) expressed by neurons that control the autonomic nervous system are key in regulating glucose metabolism and energy expenditure, said senior author Dr. Joel Elmquist, Director of the Division of Hypothalamic Research, and Professor of Internal Medicine, Pharmacology, and Psychiatry.”A number of previous studies have demonstrated that MC4Rs are key regulators of energy expenditure and glucose homeostasis, but the key neurons required to regulate these responses were unclear,” said Dr. Elmquist, who holds the Carl H. Westcott Distinguished Chair in Medical Research, and the Maclin Family Distinguished Professorship in Medical Science, in Honor of Dr. Roy A. Brinkley. “In the current study, we found that expression of these receptors by neurons that control the sympathetic nervous system, seem to be key regulators of metabolism. In particular, these cells regulate blood glucose levels and the ability of white fat to become ‘brown or beige’ fat.”Using mouse models, the team of researchers, including co-first authors Dr. Eric Berglund, Assistant Professor in the Advanced Imaging Research Center and Pharmacology, and Dr. Tiemin Liu, a postdoctoral research fellow in Internal Medicine, deleted MC4Rs in neurons controlling the sympathetic nervous system. …

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Don’t like the food? Try paying more

Restaurateurs take note — by cutting your prices, you may be cutting how much people will like your food.Researchers in nutrition, economics and consumer behavior often assume that taste is a given — a person naturally either likes or dislikes a food. But a new study suggests taste perception, as well as feelings of overeating and guilt, can be manipulated by price alone.”We were fascinated to find that pricing has little impact on how much one eats, but a huge impact on how you interpret the experience,” said Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University who oversaw the research. “Simply cutting the price of food at a restaurant dramatically affects how customers evaluate and appreciate the food.”The researchers teamed up with a high-quality Italian buffet in upstate New York to study how pricing affects customers’ perceptions. They presented 139 diners with a menu that offered an all-you-can-eat buffet priced at either $4 or $8. Customers were then asked to evaluate the food and the restaurant and rate their first, middle and last taste of the food on a nine-point scale.Those who paid $8 for the buffet reported enjoying their food on average 11 percent more than those who paid $4, though the two groups ate the same amount of food overall. People who paid the lower price also more often reported feeling like they had overeaten, felt more guilt about the meal, and reported liking the food less and less throughout the course of the meal.”We were surprised by the striking pattern we saw,” said Ozge Sigirci, a researcher at Cornell University Food and Brand Lab who conducted the study. “If the food is there, you are going to eat it, but the pricing very much affects how you are going to feel about your meal and how you will evaluate the restaurant.”Public health researchers and health advocates have focused on how all-you-can-eat buffets influence people’s eating habits. On the theory that such restaurants foster overeating and contribute to obesity, some advocates have proposed imposing special taxes on buffet consumers or restaurant owners.The study did not directly address the public health implications of all-you-can-eat buffets, but the researchers said the results could offer lessons about how to optimize a restaurant experience. “If you’re a consumer and want to eat at a buffet, the best thing to do is eat at the most expensive buffet you can afford. You won’t eat more, but you’ll have a better experience overall,” said Wansink.The study fits within a constellation of other work by Wansink and others offering insights about how health behaviors can be manipulated by small changes, such as putting the most healthful foods first in a display or using a smaller dinner plate.”This is an example of how a really small change can transform how a person interacts with food in a way that doesn’t entail dieting,” said Wansink, who is author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, an upcoming book about how design choices influence eating behavior.Ozge Sigirci presented the findings during the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting on Tuesday, April 29.

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Facial transplantation: Almost a decade out, surgeons prepare for burgeoning demand

Plastic and reconstructive surgeons leading the first retrospective study of all known facial transplants worldwide conclude that the procedure is relatively safe, increasingly feasible, and a clear life-changer that can and should be offered to far more carefully selected patients.Reporting in The Lancet online April 27, NYU Langone plastic and reconstructive surgeon and senior author Eduardo Rodriguez, MD, DDS, says results after nearly a decade of experience with what he calls the “Mount Everest” of medical-surgical treatments are “highly encouraging.”The review team noted that the transplants still pose lifelong risks and complications from infection and sometimes toxic immunosuppressive drugs, but also are highly effective at restoring people to fully functioning lives after physically disfiguring and socially debilitating facial injuries.Surgeons base their claims on the experience of 28 people known to have had full or partial face transplants since 2005, when the first such procedure was performed on a woman in France.Of the 22 men and six women whose surgeries were reported, including seven Americans, none have chronically rejected their new organs and tissues, says Dr. Rodriguez, chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center and director of its Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery. All but three recipients are still living. Four have returned to work or school.Dr. Rodriguez, the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, in 2012 performed what is widely considered the most extensive facial transplant (when he practiced at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore). The patient was a Virginia man who had lost the lower half of his face in a gunshot accident 10 years earlier. Dr. Rodriguez is currently readying his new team at NYU Langone to perform its first facial transplantation, expected later this year.In The Lancet article, Dr. Rodriguez and his colleagues point out that although all recipients to date have experienced some complications from infection, and mild to moderate signs of rejection, the few deaths among patients were due to infection and cancer not directly related to their transplants. …

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Scientists create circuit board modeled on the human brain

Stanford scientists have developed faster, more energy-efficient microchips based on the human brain — 9,000 times faster and using significantly less power than a typical PC. This offers greater possibilities for advances in robotics and a new way of understanding the brain. For instance, a chip as fast and efficient as the human brain could drive prosthetic limbs with the speed and complexity of our own actions.Stanford scientists have developed a new circuit board modeled on the human brain, possibly opening up new frontiers in robotics and computing.For all their sophistication, computers pale in comparison to the brain. The modest cortex of the mouse, for instance, operates 9,000 times faster than a personal computer simulation of its functions.Not only is the PC slower, it takes 40,000 times more power to run, writes Kwabena Boahen, associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, in an article for the Proceedings of the IEEE.”From a pure energy perspective, the brain is hard to match,” says Boahen, whose article surveys how “neuromorphic” researchers in the United States and Europe are using silicon and software to build electronic systems that mimic neurons and synapses.Boahen and his team have developed Neurogrid, a circuit board consisting of 16 custom-designed “Neurocore” chips. Together these 16 chips can simulate 1 million neurons and billions of synaptic connections. The team designed these chips with power efficiency in mind. Their strategy was to enable certain synapses to share hardware circuits. The result was Neurogrid — a device about the size of an iPad that can simulate orders of magnitude more neurons and synapses than other brain mimics on the power it takes to run a tablet computer.The National Institutes of Health funded development of this million-neuron prototype with a five-year Pioneer Award. Now Boahen stands ready for the next steps — lowering costs and creating compiler software that would enable engineers and computer scientists with no knowledge of neuroscience to solve problems — such as controlling a humanoid robot — using Neurogrid.Its speed and low power characteristics make Neurogrid ideal for more than just modeling the human brain. Boahen is working with other Stanford scientists to develop prosthetic limbs for paralyzed people that would be controlled by a Neurocore-like chip.”Right now, you have to know how the brain works to program one of these,” said Boahen, gesturing at the $40,000 prototype board on the desk of his Stanford office. …

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Two breath compounds could be associated with larynx cancer

Participants exhaled into tedlar bags after fasting for more than eight hours.Credit: SINC[Click to enlarge image]Researchers at the Rey Juan Carlos University and the Alcorcn Hospital (Madrid) have compared the volatile substances exhaled by eleven people with cancer of larynx, with those of another twenty healthy people. The results show that the concentrations of certain molecules, mainly ethanol and 2-butanone, are higher in individuals with carcinoma, therefore they act as potential markers of the disease.Human breath contains thousands of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and some of them can be used as non-invasive biomarkers for various types of head and neck cancers as well as cancer of the larynx.This was shown in the experiment carried out by scientists from the Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) with 31 volunteers: 20 healthy subjects (half of which are smokers) and 11 with cancer of the larynx in various phases of the disease and who are being treated in the Alcorcn Hospital in Madrid.The results, published in the journal Chromatographia, reveal that the air exhaled by the more seriously ill patients – in a stage called T3 – contains different concentrations of seven compounds compared with the levels of healthy people or even those with a less developed tumour (T1).Specifically, in the graphics of individuals with advanced cancer, the peaks that represent ethanol (C2H6O) and 2-butanone (C4H8O) are particularly significant. These two compounds therefore become potential markers of laryngeal carcinoma.”At the moment it is still a preliminary study and a wider sample has to be obtained,” Rafael Garca, professor of Chemical Engineering at the URJC and co-author of the study told SINC, “but it is a step in the right direction, an alternative with regard to identifying biomarkers, not only for this type of cancer but for other more prevalent and serious ones such as lung cancer, where early detection is key”.As part of the experiment, the researchers asked the participants to breathe into tedlar bags after fasting for at least eight hours so there was no leftover food or drink on their breath.The samples were then analysed with solid phase micro-extraction, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques, which enable very small amounts of a substance to be separated and identified. The concentrations are around or slightly above the equipment’s detection limits (40 nanograms/mL), which is equivalent to 40 ppb or parts per billion.The ultimate aim of the research is to “create an electronic nose that can be used in hospitals and health centres for the early detection of these types of diseases,” concluded Rafael Garca. This team, together with other Spanish and foreign research groups, is working hard to develop sensors capable of detecting diseases through breath analysis.Head and neck cancers represent between 5% and 10% of all malignant tumours currently diagnosed in Spain. Every year nearly half a million new cases are detected worldwide, mainly attributed to tobacco and alcohol use and approximately 90% are laryngeal cancer. The study also identified four markers in the exhaled breath that are typical of smokers, such as benzene and furfural.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Plataforma SINC. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.Journal Reference:Rafael A. Garca, Victoria Morales, Sergio Martn, Estela Vilches, Adolfo Toledano. Volatile Organic Compounds Analysis in Breath Air in Healthy Volunteers and Patients Suffering Epidermoid Laryngeal Carcinomas. …

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Take the bat, leave the candy: The food environment of youth baseball

‘Take me out to the ballgame’ doesn’t exactly conjure up images of apple slices and kale chips. The more likely culprits include French fries, soda and the occasional box of Crackerjacks.Unfortunately for children who play youth baseball, eating unhealthy food during practices and games may be contributing to weight problems, according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The study, published in the current online edition of Childhood Obesity, found that high-calorie snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks dominate the youth baseball scene.“Though youth sports are an excellent way to promote physical activity, social interaction and positive health behaviors, the food environments are often characterized by less healthy food options with high calorie contents and lower nutrient density,” said Joseph Skelton, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist and senior author of the study.In this observational study, the research team conducted an environmental scan of foods consumed by players and family members during 12 games at a youth baseball field in northwest North Carolina. The players were boys 8 to 11 years old on six teams.The researchers found that most snacks were high-calorie food items, including French fries, candy and cookies and most beverages were sugar-sweetened. Nearly 90 percent of food and beverage items purchased were from the concession stand.“Team sports like baseball are still very important for children’s activity and development,” said Megan Irby, M.S, co-author and research program manager of Brenner FIT, a multidisciplinary pediatric obesity program at Wake Forest Baptist.“But as seen in this study, games and practices can be upwards of two to three nights a week, and many children participate on multiple sports teams each year. Parents should plan ahead for these busy times and even advocate in their local sports leagues for policies that address snacks and drinks.”This research was the first step in exploring the question of whether children and families attending youth sporting events may be increasing their risk for being overweight or obese as a result of chronic unhealthy food behaviors associated with sports participation, Skelton said. Contrary to the intent of youth sports, these findings indicate that children may be leaving the ball field having consumed more calories than they expended.“Despite the benefits of participating in sports, the increased exposure to unhealthy foods and disruption of meal times may increase children’s risk for poor nutritional habits that can contribute to weight management issues,” Skelton said.A limitation of the study was the ability to accurately document all foods consumed at the ballpark without being intrusive.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Breakthrough harnesses light for controlled chemical reaction

When chemist Tehshik Yoon looks out his office window, he sees a source of energy to drive chemical reactions. Plants “learned” to synthesize chemicals with sunlight eons ago; Yoon came to the field a bit more recently.But this week, in the journal Science, he and three collaborators detail a way to use sunlight and two catalysts to create molecules that are difficult to make with conventional techniques.In chemistry, heat and ultraviolet (UV) light are commonly used to drive reactions. Although light can power reactions that heat cannot, UV has disadvantages, says Yoon, a chemistry professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The UV often used in industry carries so much energy that “it’s dangerous to use, unselective, and prone to making unwanted by-products.”Many chemicals exist in two forms that are mirror images of each other, and Yoon is interested in reactions that make only one of those images.”It’s like your hands,” Yoon says. “They are similar, but not identical; a left-hand glove does not fit the right hand. It’s the same way with molecules in biology; many fail unless they have the correct ‘handedness,’ or ‘chirality.'”The pharmaceutical industry, in particular, is concerned about controlling chirality in drugs, but making those shapes is a hit-or-miss proposition with UV light, Yoon says.He says the new technique answers a question posed by a French chemist in 1874, who suggested using light to make products with controlled chirality. “Chemists could never do that efficiently, and so the prejudice was that it was too difficult to do.”When a graduate student asked for a challenging project seven years ago, Yoon asked him to explore powering reactions compounds with metals that are used to capture the sun’s energy in solar cells. In a solar cell, these metals release electrons to make electricity.”We are taking the electrons that these metals spin out and using their energy to promote a chemical reaction,” Yoon says.Plants do the same thing during photosynthesis, he says: absorb light, release high-energy electrons, and use those electrons to bond water and carbon dioxide into sugars. That reaction is the basis of essentially all of agriculture and all food chains.Once the solar-cell metal supplied electrons, Yoon thought about using a second catalyst to control chirality. He passed the project to Juana Du, another graduate student.”She must have synthesized 70 different catalysts,” says Yoon. …

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Male or female? First sex-determining genes appeared in mammals some 180 million years ago

Man or woman? Male or female? In humans and other mammals, the difference between sexes depends on one single element of the genome: the Y chromosome. It is present only in males, where the two sexual chromosomes are X and Y, whereas women have two X chromosomes. Thus, the Y is ultimately responsible for all the morphological and physiological differences between males and females.But this has not always been the case. A very long time ago, the X and Y were identical, until the Y started to differentiate from the X in males. It then progressively shrank to such an extent that, nowadays, it only contains about 20 genes (the X carries more than one thousand genes). When did the Y originate and which genes have been kept? The answer has just been brought to light by the team of Henrik Kaessmann, Associate Professor at the CIG (UNIL) and group leader at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, and their collaborators in Australia. They have established that the first ” sex genes ” appeared concomitantly in mammals around 180 million years ago.4,3 billion genetic sequencesBy studying samples from several male tissues — in particular testicles — from different species, the researchers recovered the Y chromosome genes from the three major mammalian lineages: placentals (which include humans, apes, rodents and elephants), marsupials (such as opossums and kangaroos) and monotremes (egg-laying mammals, such as the platypus and the echidna, a kind of Australian porcupine). …

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Cyber buddy is better than ‘no buddy’

A Michigan State University researcher is looking to give exercise enthusiasts the extra nudge they need during a workout, and her latest research shows that a cyber buddy can help.The study, which appears in the Games for Health Journal, is the first to indicate that although a human partner is still a better motivator during exercise, a software-generated partner also can be effective.”We wanted to demonstrate that something that isn’t real can still motivate people to give greater effort while exercising than if they had to do it by themselves,” said Deborah Feltz, a University Distinguished Professor in MSU’s kinesiology department who led the study with co-investigator Brian Winn, associate professor in MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences.The implications from the research also could open the door for software and video game companies to create cyber buddy programs based on sport psychology.”Unlike many of the current game designs out there, these results could allow developers to create exercise platforms that incorporate team or partner dynamics that are based on science,” said Feltz.Using “CyBud-X,” an exercise game specifically developed for Feltz’s research, 120 college-aged participants were given five different isometric plank exercises to do with one of three same-sex partner choices.Along with a human partner option, two software-generated buddies were used — one representing what looked to be a nearly human partner and another that looked animated. The participant and partner image were then projected onto a screen via a web camera while exercising.The results showed that a significant motivational gain was observed in all partner conditions.”Even though participants paired with a human partner held their planks, on average, one minute and 20 seconds longer than those with no partner, those paired with one of the software-generated buddies still held out, on average, 33 seconds longer,” said Feltz.Much of Feltz’s research in this area has focused on the Khler Motivation Effect, a phenomenon that explains why people, who may not be adept exercisers themselves, perform better with a moderately better partner or team as opposed to working out alone.Her findings give credence that programs such as “CyBud-X” can make a difference in the way people perform.”We know that people tend to show more effort during exercise when there are other partners involved because their performance hinges on how the entire team does,” she said. “The fact that a nonhuman partner can have a similar effect is encouraging.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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