Bacteria on the skin: Our invisible companions influence how quickly wounds heel

A new study suggests microbes living on our skin influence how quickly wounds heal. The findings could lead to new treatments for chronic wounds, which affect 1 in 20 elderly people.We spend our lives covered head-to-toe in a thin veneer of bacteria. But despite a growing appreciation for the valuable roles our resident microbes play in the digestive tract, little is known about the bacteria that reside in and on our skin. A new study suggests the interplay between our cells and these skin-dwelling microbes could influence how wounds heal.”This study gives us a much better understanding of the types of bacterial species that are found in skin wounds, how our cells might respond to the bacteria and how that interaction can affect healing,” said Matthew Hardman, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at The University of Manchester Healing Foundation Centre who led the project. “It’s our hope that these insights could help lead to better treatments to promote wound healing that are based on sound biology.”Chronic wounds — cuts or lesions that just never seem to heal — are a significant health problem, particularly among elderly people. An estimated 1 in 20 elderly people live with a chronic wound, which often results from diabetes, poor blood circulation or being confined to bed or a wheelchair.”These wounds can literally persist for years, and we simply have no good treatments to help a chronic wound heal,” said Hardman, who added that doctors currently have no reliable way to tell whether a wound will heal or persist. “There’s a definite need for better ways to both predict how a wound is going to heal and develop new treatments to promote healing.”The trillions of bacteria that live on and in our bodies have attracted a great deal of scientific interest in recent years. Findings from studies of microbes in the gut have made it clear that although some bacteria cause disease, many other bacteria are highly beneficial for our health.In their recent study, Hardman and his colleagues compared the skin bacteria from people with chronic wounds that did or did not heal. The results showed markedly different bacterial communities, suggesting there may be a bacterial “signature” of a wound that refuses to heal.”Our data clearly support the idea that one could swab a wound, profile the bacteria that are there and then be able to tell whether the wound is likely to heal quickly or persist, which could impact treatment decisions,” said Hardman.The team also conducted a series of studies in mice to shed light on the reasons why some wounds heal while others do not. They found that mice lacking a single gene had a different array of skin microbiota — including more harmful bacteria — and healed much more slowly than mice with a normal copy of the gene.The gene, which has been linked to Chrohn’s disease, is known to help cells recognize and respond to bacteria. …

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

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

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Detecting tumor markers easily

Blood is just teeming with proteins. It’s not easy there to identify specialized tumor markers indicating the presence of cancer. A new method now enables diagnostics to be carried out in a single step. Scientists will present the analysis equipment at analytica, the international trade fair in Munich April 1-4.Benign growth, or cancer?Tumor markers in the blood help determine whether the patient is afflicted with a malign tumor and whether it is excreting markers more vigorously — involving highly specific proteins. An increased concentration in the blood provides one indication of the disease for physicians. However, it has been quite expensive in time and effort to detect the markers thus far. This is because all kinds of molecules and proteins are teeming in the blood. To be able to detect a single specific one, doctors must first separate and purify the blood in several steps, and then isolate the marker they are searching for from the rest of the molecules.This will go faster in future. Researchers in the Project Group for Automation in Medicine and Biotechnology PAMB of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Mannheim, Germany, have developed a one-step analysis. “Our goal is to detect biological molecules in blood, or in other kinds of samples from the patient such as urine, that indicate diseases,” explains Caroline Siegert, a scientist at IPA, “and do so without having to laboriously process the blood, but in one single step instead.”Lower noise, higher signalThe difficulty in detecting specific molecules in the blood or urine lies in the enormous number of substances that are mixed in the liquid. …

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Negative effects of joining a gang last long after gang membership ends

Imagine two children, both with the exact same risk factors for joining a gang. As teenagers, one joins a gang, the other doesn’t. Even though the first teen eventually leaves the gang, years later he or she is not only at significantly higher risk of being incarcerated and receiving illegal income, but is also less likely to have finished high school and more likely to be in poor health, receiving government assistance or struggling with drug abuse.University of Washington researchers have found that joining a gang in adolescence has significant consequences in adulthood beyond criminal behavior, even after a person leaves the gang. The research is published in the American Journal of Public Health.”It turns out that, like violence, gang membership is as much a public health problem as a criminal justice problem,” said Karl Hill, study co-author and research associate professor in the School of Social Work. “Joining a gang in the teens had enduring consequences on health and well-being.”The Seattle Social Development Project, which was founded by study co-author J. David Hawkins, followed 808 fifth-grade students from 18 elementary schools serving high-crime neighborhoods in Seattle, beginning in 1985. More than half of the students came from low-income families. Participants were interviewed every year until the age of 18, then every three years until the age of 33.According to lead author Amanda Gilman, a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work, joining a gang served as a turning point, creating consequences that cascaded into other areas of life for years afterward.”Very few of them reported still being in a gang at age 27. The vast majority had left a long time ago, but the consequences stuck with them long-term,” Gilman said. Researchers used 23 risk factors to calculate a child’s propensity for joining a gang, and then compared 173 youth who had joined a gang with 173 who did not but showed a similar propensity for doing so, so that the only difference between the two groups was gang membership. …

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Manipulating heat, drought tolerance in cowpeas

Cowpeas, known as black-eyed peas in the U.S., are an important and versatile food legume grown in more than 80 countries. Texas A&M University scientists are working to map the genes controlling drought and heat tolerance in recent varieties.New and improved varieties of cowpeas have numerous adaptive traits of agronomic importance, such as 60-70 day maturity, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, aphid resistance and low phosphorus tolerance, said Dr. Meiping Zhang, Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate research scientist in College Station.Under a National Institute for Food and Agriculture grant of $500,000, Zhang and other Texas A&M scientists will take advantage of the recently developed DNA sequencing technology to map and ultimately clone the genes controlling drought and heat tolerance for molecular studies and deployment of these genes in other crops, she said.Joining Zhang on the project are Dr. Hongbin Zhang, Texas A&M professor of plant genomics and systems biology and director of the Laboratory for Plant Genomics and Molecular Genetics; Dr. B.B. Singh, a visiting scholar and cowpea breeder with the Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department; and Dr. Dirk Hays, Texas A&M associate professor of physiological and molecular genetics, all in College Station.The goal of the study is to develop single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNP markers, the latest DNA marker technology, enabling efficient manipulation of heat and drought tolerances in cowpeas and related species, Zhang said.Cowpeas were chosen for the study because they are a high protein grain, vegetable, fodder and high nitrogen-fixing legume that can be intercropped with corn, cotton and other crops in many countries, including the U.S., Zhang said.”We know it is highly tolerant to drought, heat and several other biotic and abiotic stresses,” she said. “This research will use high-throughput site-associated DNA sequencing to map the genes controlling drought and heat tolerance and to develop SNP markers, enabling efficient manipulation of heat and drought tolerances in cowpea and related species.”Zhang said they have already developed a mapping population of 110 recombinant inbred lines from a cross of two cowpea lines that are highly tolerant or susceptible to both drought and high temperature. This population is being augmented into more than 200 recombinant inbred lines for the new project.”We will not only map drought and heat tolerant genes, but also develop a platform for mapping genes controlling several other biotic and abiotic stress tolerances such as aphid resistance and low phosphorus tolerance, both of which are also of extreme significance for agricultural production of many crops.”The drought and heat tolerant genes, once defined and cloned, will significantly advance understanding of the molecular basis underlying plant tolerances to these stresses, Zhang said.This will help researchers design tools to effectively combine multiple traits into new cultivars adapted to the globally changing climate in this and related crops, thus supporting the long-term genetic improvement and sustainability of U.S. agriculture and food systems, she said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Texas AgriLife Research. …

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Horticulture: Multiple commercial uses of wireless sensor networks outlined in report

Managing the quality and quantity of freshwater resources is one of the most serious environmental challenges of the 21st century. Global population growth and increasing urbanization have resulted in increased competition for water resources among domestic, industrial, and agricultural users. Challenged to find ways to manage irrigation needs while recognizing the limitations of freshwater resources, many commercial horticulture operations are showing increased interest in the use of wireless sensor networks (WSN) — -technology designed to both monitor and control irrigation events.A review published in HortTechnology highlights the recent advances in specific WSN technology and discusses implications for its use in commercial horticulture settings.”Previous studies have demonstrated the utility of sensor-controlled irrigation,” explained Matthew Chappell, lead author of the report. “The subsequent step in facilitating adoption of this technology has been the on-farm implementation of soil moisture-based irrigation hardware and software developed as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crops Research Initiative Project.” Chappell and colleagues at the University of Georgia’s Department of Horticulture reported on the implementation and use of these WSNs at three commercial nursery and greenhouse operations in Georgia.The report focused on the use of capacitance-based soil moisture sensors to both monitor and control irrigation events. “Since on-farm testing of these wireless sensor networks (WSNs) to monitor and control irrigation scheduling began in 2010, WSNs have been deployed in a diverse assortment of commercial horticulture operations,” the authors said. They said that improved software and hardware have resulted from the challenges and successes experienced by growers, and grower confidence in WSNs has subsequently improved.”Growers are using WSNs in a variety of ways to fit specific needs, resulting in multiple commercial applications,” Chappell noted. “Some growers use WSNs as fully functional irrigation controllers. Other growers use components of WSNs, specifically the web-based graphical user interface (GUI), to monitor grower-controlled irrigation schedules.””The case studies we documented exemplify the advancements that can be made in product development, deployment, and implementation when researchers work together with commercial growers,” said Chappell. He noted that the research project has resulted in successful WSN implementation at three commercial nurseries in Georgia, which now trust and rely on WSN data not only to monitor substrate moisture but also to control irrigation. …

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Agricultural productivity loss a result of soil, crop damage from flooding

The Cache River Basin, which once drained more than 614,100 acres across six southern Illinois counties, has changed substantively since the ancient Ohio River receded. The basin contains a slow-moving, meandering river; fertile soils and productive farmlands; deep sand and gravel deposits; sloughs and uplands; and one of the most unique and diverse natural habitats in Illinois and the nation.According to a recent University of Illinois study, the region’s agricultural lands dodged a bullet due to the timing of the great flood of April 2011 when the Ohio River approached the record high of 332.2 feet above sea level.“The floodwaters eventually drained back into the Ohio River and upper Mississippi River ultimately leaving approximately 1,000 acres of agricultural land flooded from a backup in the middle and lower Cache River Valley, which flooded the adjacent forest-covered alluvial soils and the slightly higher cultivated soils,” said U of I researcher Ken Olson.According to Olson, who has studied the effects of that particular flood extensively, these cultivated soils drained by the middle of June 2011 and were planted to soybeans. The floodwaters left a thin silt and clay deposition on the agricultural lands and crop residue when they receded. These coatings included significant amounts of soil organic carbon, microbes, and pathogens. After the coatings dried, they were incorporated into the topsoil layer of the alluvial soils using tillage equipment.“Because the flooding occurred during the non-growing season for corn and soybeans, the mixing in of sediment into the topsoil prior to planting resulted in little significant loss of soil productivity, little soybean damage, or yield reduction on lands outside the levees along the Mississippi, Cache, and Ohio rivers,” Olson said.As a result of the record Ohio River flood level, floodwaters passed north through the Post Creek cut-off, then west through the 2002 Karnak breach and into the middle Cache River valley to the Diversion to Mississippi River, which was already above flood stage so the floodwaters continued west. In late April, the Ohio River floodwaters then started to flood the towns of Olive Branch and Miller City, the Horseshoe Lake area, and surrounding agricultural lands. On May 2, 2011, the Len Small levee on the Mississippi River failed and resulted in the flooding of an additional 30,000 acres of Illinois public and private lands.Illinois agricultural statistics recorded the harvest of 4,500 fewer acres of corn and 6,500 fewer acres of soybeans in Alexander County in 2011. Soybean production was 1,200,000 bushels in 2010 but dropped to 865,000 bushels in 2011 due to flooding from both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and crop and soil damage. The floodwaters also scoured lands in some places and deposited sand in other locations.Olson cautioned that, had winter wheat been planted outside the levees in the fall of 2010, the wheat crop would have drowned. “Illinois farmers are aware of the flooding potential, especially in the winter and early spring, so they don’t plant winter wheat on unprotected bottomlands,” he said. …

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Novel compound keeps Parkinson’s symptoms at bay in mice

Scientists report that they have developed a novel compound that appears to protect mice against developing movement problems associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The research, which could one day in the future translate into a therapy that could halt the progression of PD and thereby prevent the symptoms of the disease, appears in ACS’ Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.Onyou Hwang, Ki Duk Park and colleagues explain that PD, which affects an estimated 4 million to 10 million people worldwide, is a progressive movement disorder with no known cure. It often starts with slight tremors and gets worse over time. Muscles go stiff. Walking becomes difficult. Speech is slurred. No one knows for certain what causes the disease, but research has shown that it’s linked with the loss of nerve cells in the brain that secrete dopamine, a chemical that is involved in movement and emotion. To find a potential new therapy for PD, the research team searched for a way to shield these brain cells.They made 56 compounds and tested them to see which ones boosted the production of proteins that protect dopamine-releasing neurons from damage. Of those, one, which they call “12g,” proved to be the most active. Interestingly, it protected mice from developing PD-like symptoms in one laboratory test. …

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Investigating the fiber of our being: How our gut bacteria metabolize complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables

We are all aware of the health benefits of dietary fiber. But what is dietary fiber and how do we metabolize it?Research at the University of Michigan Medical School, the University of York’s Structural Biology Laboratory, and institutions in Canada and Sweden, has begun to uncover how our gut bacteria metabolize the complex dietary carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables.Trillions of bacteria live in human intestines — there are about ten times more bacterial cells in the average person’s body than human ones. Known as “microbiota,” these bacteria have a vital role to play in human health: they are central to our metabolism and well-being.The research team has uncovered how one group of gut bacteria, known as Bacteroidetes, digest complex sugars known as xyloglucans. These make up to 25 per cent of the dry weight of dietary fruit and vegetables including lettuce, onion, eggplant and tomatoes.In a recent issue of Nature, the researchers reported on a particular gene sequence that allows Bacteroidetes to carry out this function. They show that about 92 per cent of the population harbors bacteria with a variant of the gene sequence, according to a survey of public genome data from 250 adult humans.Understanding how these bacteria digest complex carbohydrates informs studies on a wide range of nutritional issues. These include probiotics (the consumption of ‘beneficial’ micro-organisms as a food supplement) and prebiotics (the consumption of foods or supplements intended to stimulate the production of healthy bacteria in the gut).”Its been appreciated for a long time that our symbiotic gut bacteria provide us with greatly expanded abilities to digest dietary fiber. However, the precise details of how this happens remain largely unexplored,” says co-corresponding author Eric Martens, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the U-M Medical School. Martens is participating in the Host Microbiome Initiative, part of the U-M Medical School’s Strategic Research Initiative.Large-scale genome sequencing efforts, like the Human Microbiome Project, have focused on the community of microorganisms that live in the human gut. But these approaches can only uncover functions that have already been experimentally described, and much of what is sequenced is still unknown.”In this study, we took an empirical approach to decipher how one model gut bacterium digests one type of fiber that is abundant in the foods we eat. We were subsequently able to fit our findings into a much larger picture because of the existing data that the Human Microbiome Project has already gathered. …

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Why did the orangutan come down from the trees?

Orangutans come down from the trees and spend more time on the ground than previously realised — but this behaviour may be partly influenced by humans, a new study has found.Dr Mark Harrison, based in the Department of Geography at the University of Leicester and Managing Director of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) has, along with international colleagues, published results of a seven year study of Orangutans in Borneo in the journal Scientific Reports.The research, conducted between June 2006 and March 2013, is based on a large-scale analysis of Orangutan terrestriality using comprehensive camera-trapping data from 16 sites across Borneo. In total there were 641 independent Orangutan records taken at 1,409 camera trap stations over 159,152 trap days.The Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is the world’s largest arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammal. Records of terrestrial behaviour are rare and tend to be associated with habitat disturbance.Marc Ancrenaz, from the HUTAN / Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme in Malaysia, and colleagues conducted the study. Dr Harrison, said: “We’ve known for some time that Orangutans use the ground to travel and search for food, but the influence of anthropogenic disturbances in driving this behaviour has been unclear. This is crucial to understand in this age of rampant forest loss and fragmentation, which is slicing up the Orangutan’s jungle home.”We found that although the degree of forest disturbance and canopy gap size influenced terrestriality, Orangutans were recorded on the ground as often in heavily degraded habitats as in primary forests.”All age-sex classes were recorded on the ground, but flanged males — those with distinctive cheek pads and throat pouches — travel on the ground more. This suggests that terrestrial locomotion is a greater part of the Bornean Orangutan’s natural behavioural repertoire than previously understood and is only modified by habitat disturbance.”Dr Harrison added: “The capacity of Orangutans to come down from the trees may increase their ability to cope with at least smaller-scale forest fragmentation, and to cross moderately open spaces in mosaic landscapes, although the extent of this versatility remains to be investigated.”The authors report that more than 70% of Orangutans occur in fragmented multiple-use and human-modified forests that have lost many of their original ecological characteristics. Modified Orangutan behaviour which sees them increasingly spending time on the ground therefore has its pros and cons:Dr Harrison explains that, “Increased terrestriality is expected to increase predation risk, interactions with and persecution by humans, and exposure to novel diseases. Unlike in Sumatra, where tigers are present, predation is less of a concern in Borneo, although infants might be at risk from bearded pigs and clouded leopards. In recent history, their biggest predator has been man, who is actually more likely to pick Orangutans off in the trees: Orangutans make a lot of noise and so are very obvious in the trees, whereas they can move with almost no noise and so more easily get away on the ground.”The scientists report that terrestrial behaviour therefore could also facilitate movement and dispersal, especially in degraded or fragmented landscapes as a result of natural or human-made processes. This could also create new opportunities to access different food sources.”Dr Harrison concludes: “Ultimately, a better understanding of what drives Orangutan terrestriality, how this influences their dispersal, movement and survival in a human-modified landscapes is important for designing effective management strategies for conservation of this endangered species in Borneo.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leicester. …

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Investigating the fiber of our being: How our gut bacteria metabolizes complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables

We are all aware of the health benefits of dietary fiber. But what is dietary fiber and how do we metabolize it?Research at the University of Michigan Medical School, the University of York’s Structural Biology Laboratory, and institutions in Canada and Sweden, has begun to uncover how our gut bacteria metabolize the complex dietary carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables.Trillions of bacteria live in human intestines — there are about ten times more bacterial cells in the average person’s body than human ones. Known as “microbiota,” these bacteria have a vital role to play in human health: they are central to our metabolism and well-being.The research team has uncovered how one group of gut bacteria, known as Bacteroidetes, digest complex sugars known as xyloglucans. These make up to 25 per cent of the dry weight of dietary fruit and vegetables including lettuce, onion, eggplant and tomatoes.In a recent issue of Nature, the researchers reported on a particular gene sequence that allows Bacteroidetes to carry out this function. They show that about 92 per cent of the population harbors bacteria with a variant of the gene sequence, according to a survey of public genome data from 250 adult humans.Understanding how these bacteria digest complex carbohydrates informs studies on a wide range of nutritional issues. These include probiotics (the consumption of ‘beneficial’ micro-organisms as a food supplement) and prebiotics (the consumption of foods or supplements intended to stimulate the production of healthy bacteria in the gut).”Its been appreciated for a long time that our symbiotic gut bacteria provide us with greatly expanded abilities to digest dietary fiber. However, the precise details of how this happens remain largely unexplored,” says co-corresponding author Eric Martens, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the U-M Medical School. Martens is participating in the Host Microbiome Initiative, part of the U-M Medical School’s Strategic Research Initiative.Large-scale genome sequencing efforts, like the Human Microbiome Project, have focused on the community of microorganisms that live in the human gut. But these approaches can only uncover functions that have already been experimentally described, and much of what is sequenced is still unknown.”In this study, we took an empirical approach to decipher how one model gut bacterium digests one type of fiber that is abundant in the foods we eat. We were subsequently able to fit our findings into a much larger picture because of the existing data that the Human Microbiome Project has already gathered. …

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First live births with a novel simplified IVF procedure

More than 5 million IVF babies have now been born worldwide, but because of high costs IVF is largely the preserve of developed countries and is only available or affordable for less than 10% of the world population. The success and sustainability of assisted reproductive technologies will depend to a large extent on the ability to optimize these techniques in terms of availability, affordability and effectiveness.In developing countries the consequences of involuntary childlessness can create wide-ranging societal problems, especially for women. Because many families in developing countries depend entirely on children for economic survival, childlessness can often be viewed as a social and public-health issue and not only as a medical problem.Published in Reproductive BioMedicine Online, American and Belgian researchers outline the first results of a prospective study performed in Genk, Belgium. They report the results of a study in which a simple, reduced cost IVF culture system was used to replace more expensive incubator systems. The new method does not alter the need for surgical egg retrieval and embryo transfer, laboratory staffing and egg or embryo freezing.In a short prospective clinical trial, successful outcomes were obtained with the simplified method at levels that compare favorably with those reported by typical IVF programs in developed countries.Sixteen healthy babies have now been born using the new method. It is expected that laboratory costs may be reduced, however the extent of this remains to be determined.The simplified IVF method has the potential to open up a new era in the history of IVF and may not only change the accessibility of IVF in resource-poor countries, but also have implications for accessibility in developed countries too, where IVF is increasingly becoming available only to affluent couples. The trend in IVF has been to introduce new and complex instruments and tests. It is hoped that the new embryo culture method may change this philosophy.This study is part of the Walking Egg Project (www.thewalkingegg.com), an international project that aims to raise awareness surrounding involuntary childlessness in resource-poor countries. The project also aims to make infertility care in all its aspects, including assisted reproductive technologies, available and accessible for a larger proportion of the world population in both developing and developed countries.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Elsevier. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Gathering ‘wild’ food in the city: rethinking the role of foraging in urban ecosystem planning, management

Published today, these exploratory studies point to the importance for planners, managers and scholars to understand urban green spaces as not only providers of services, but also providers of material products.In the USA, influential landscape architects of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as Frederick Law Olmsted and his student Charles Eliot, advocated the creation of networks of urban parks connected to each other and, through river corridors, to green spaces beyond the boundaries of urban settlements. These planners argued that public spaces with large amounts of vegetation were essential elements of healthy, functional cities. These new landscapes emphasized aesthetics, relaxation, recreation, and refuge, reinforcing emerging notions about which human–nature interactions belonged in the city and which in the country.Productive practices were defined as rural and, therefore, inappropriate inside the city and city parks. Thus, cities such as Columbus, Ohio materially and discursively erased subsistence gardening and rules prohibiting foraging in parks became commonplace (McLain et al.) Further, development and maintenance of the great urban parks demanded centralization and professionalization of their care. Decision-making powers and management authority were vested in municipal governments and professional park managers.With the popularization of the concept of sustainable development in the late 1980s, planners saw the need for community involvement. They began to experiment with green space policies that explicitly seek to integrate social, economic, and ecological concerns in urban environments, recognizing and incorporating interstitial, raw, or ‘feral’ lands into park creation and protection. Such places, including the street trees and other vegetation that characterize these spaces, are important for meeting the community and ecosystem needs of low income urban neighborhoods that do not have large expanses of undeveloped land or existing parks. These shifts in the conceptualization of urban nature and human roles in it have, to some extent, created openings for the return of productive practices such as farming, horticulture and bee-keeping to public green spaces. However, urban foraging has received little attention in by planners of urban green spacesToday, foragers in this unique study In Baltimore, Seattle, NYC and Philadelphia ranged from less than 5 years in Baltimore to more than 80 years in Seattle. Income levels varied widely ranging from less than US$10,000 to more than US$250,000 and ethnic and racial diversity is common. …

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Long-sought pattern of ancient light detected

Oct. 22, 2013 — The journey of light from the very early universe to modern telescopes is long and winding. The ancient light traveled billions of years to reach us, and along the way, its path was distorted by the pull of matter, leading to a twisted light pattern.This twisted pattern of light, called B-modes, has at last been detected. The discovery, which will lead to better maps of matter across our universe, was made using the National Science Foundation’s South Pole Telescope, with help from the Herschel space observatory.Scientists have long predicted two types of B-modes: the ones that were recently found were generated a few billion years into our universe’s existence (it is presently 13.8 billion years old). The others, called primordial, are theorized to have been produced when the universe was a newborn baby, fractions of a second after its birth in the Big Bang.”This latest discovery is a good checkpoint on our way to the measurement of primordial B-modes,” said Duncan Hanson of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, lead author of the new report published Sept. 30 in the online edition of Physical Review Letters.The elusive primordial B-modes may be imprinted with clues about how our universe was born. Scientists are currently combing through data from the Planck mission in search of them. Both Herschel and Planck are European Space Agency missions, with important NASA contributions.The oldest light we see around us today, called the cosmic microwave background, harkens back to a time just hundreds of millions of years after the universe was created. Planck recently produced the best-ever full-sky map of this light, revealing new details about of our cosmos’ age, contents and origins. A fraction of this ancient light is polarized, a process that causes light waves to vibrate in the same plane. …

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Roadmap for implementing quality preschool

Oct. 16, 2013 — Early childhood education can yield short- and long-term educational, economic, and societal benefits, underscoring the value of expanding publicly funded preschool education, New York University Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa outlines in a research brief released today.”Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education,” authored by Yoshikawa, a professor NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and other early childhood experts, reviews existing scholarship on why early skills matter, which children benefit from preschool, the short- and long-term effects of preschool programs on children’s school readiness and life outcomes, the importance of program quality, and the costs versus benefits of preschool education.The findings, which offer a roadmap for broad, quality implementation of preschool programs, expand upon studies that have long served as barometers for the value of early childhood education: the Abecedarian Project, which traces back to the 1970s, and the Perry Preschool Project, which commenced in the 1960s.”Scientific evidence on the impacts of early childhood education has progressed well beyond exclusive reliance on the evaluations of the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs,” says Yoshikawa, the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology and lead author of the brief. “More recent evidence tells us a great deal about what works in early education and how early education might be improved. The combination of evidence-based curricula and in-classroom coaching is particularly promising and has been implemented at scale with large positive effects on children.””The recent evidence includes evaluations of city-wide public preschool programs such as those in Tulsa and Boston,” according to Deborah Phillips, professor of psychology at Georgetown University and a co-author of the brief. “Evaluations of these programs tell us that preschool programs implemented at scale can be high quality, can benefit children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and can reduce disparities.”The evaluation of the Boston preschool program was conducted by Yoshikawa and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan and was recently published in the journal Child Development.The research brief was funded by the Foundation for Child Development and produced in collaboration with the Society for Research in Child Development.According to the authors, the current science and evidence base on early childhood education shows that:• Large-scale public preschool programs that are of high quality can have a substantial impact on children’s early learning. For example, preschool systems in Tulsa and Boston have produced gains of between half and a full year of additional learning in reading and math.• Quality preschool education is a profitable investment. Cost-benefit estimates based on older, intensive interventions, such as the Perry Preschool Program, as well as contemporary, large-scale public preschool programs, such as the Chicago Child-Parent Centers and Tulsa’s preschool program, range from three to seven dollars saved (e.g., higher earnings) for participants for every dollar spent.• Quality preschool education can benefit middle-class children as well as disadvantaged children. The evidence is clear that middle-class children can benefit substantially and that benefits outweigh the costs for children from middle-income as well as those from low-income families. However, children from low-income families benefit more and therefore universal preschool can reduce disparities in skills at school entry.• Long-term benefits occur despite convergence of test scores. As children from low-income families in preschool evaluation studies are followed into elementary school, differences between those who participated in preschool and those who did not on tests of academic achievement are reduced. …

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Brain scans may aid in diagnosis of autism

Oct. 17, 2013 — Joint research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychology and Auburn University indicates that brain scans show signs of autism that could eventually support behavior-based diagnosis of autism and effective early intervention therapies. The findings appear online today in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience as part of a special issue on brain connectivity in autism.”This research suggests brain connectivity as a neural signature of autism and may eventually support clinical testing for autism,” said Rajesh Kana, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and the project’s senior researcher. “We found the information transfer between brain areas, causal influence of one brain area on another, to be weaker in autism.”The investigators found that brain connectivity data from 19 paths in brain scans predicted whether the participants had autism, with an accuracy rate of 95.9 percent.Kana, working with a team including Gopikrishna Deshpande, Ph.D., from Auburn University’s MRI Research Center, studied 15 high-functioning adolescents and adults with autism, as well as 15 typically developing control participants ages 16-34 years. Kana’s team collected all data in his autism lab at UAB that was then analyzed using a novel connectivity method at Auburn.The current study showed that adults with autism spectrum disorders processed social cues differently than typical controls. It also revealed the disrupted brain connectivity that explains their difficulty in understanding social processes.”We can see that there are consistently weaker brain regions due to the disrupted brain connectivity,” Kana said. “There’s a very clear difference.”Participants in this study were asked to choose the most logical of three possible endings as they watched a series of comic strip vignettes while a functional MRI scanner measured brain activity.The scenes included a glass about to fall off a table and a man enjoying the music of a street violinist and giving him a cash tip. Most participants in the autism group had difficulty in finding a logical end to the violinist scenario, which required an understanding of emotional and mental states. The current study showed that adults with autism spectrum disorders struggle to process subtle social cues, and altered brain connectivity may underlie their difficulty in understanding social processes.”We can see that the weaker connectivity hinders the cross-talk among brain regions in autism,” Kana said.Kana plans to continue his research on autism.”Over the next five to 10 years, our research is going in the direction of finding objective ways to supplement the diagnosis of autism with medical testing and testing the effectiveness of intervention in improving brain connectivity,” Kana said.Autism is currently diagnosed through interviews and behavioral observation. Although autism can be diagnosed by 18 months, in reality, earliest diagnoses occur around ages 4-6 as children face challenges in school or social settings.”Parents usually have a longer road before getting a firm diagnosis for their child now,” Kana said. …

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Researchers advance toward engineering ‘wildly new genome’

Oct. 17, 2013 — In two parallel projects, researchers have created new genomes inside the bacterium E. coli in ways that test the limits of genetic reprogramming and open new possibilities for increasing flexibility, productivity and safety in biotechnology.In one project, researchers created a novel genome — the first-ever entirely genomically recoded organism — by replacing all 321 instances of a specific “genetic three-letter word,” called a codon, throughout the organism’s entire genome with a word of supposedly identical meaning. The researchers then reintroduced a reprogramed version of the original word (with a new meaning, a new amino acid) into the bacteria, expanding the bacterium’s vocabulary and allowing it to produce proteins that do not normally occur in nature.In the second project, the researchers removed every occurrence of 13 different codons across 42 separate E. coli genes, using a different organism for each gene, and replaced them with other codons of the same function. When they were done, 24 percent of the DNA across the 42 targeted genes had been changed, yet the proteins the genes produced remained identical to those produced by the original genes.”The first project is saying that we can take one codon, completely remove it from the genome, then successfully reassign its function,” said Marc Lajoie, a Harvard Medical School graduate student in the lab of George Church. “For the second project we asked, ‘OK, we’ve changed this one codon, how many others can we change?'”Of the 13 codons chosen for the project, all could be changed.”That leaves open the possibility that we could potentially replace any or all of those 13 codons throughout the entire genome,” Lajoie said.The results of these two projects appear today in Science. The work was led by Church, Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Farren Isaacs, assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale School of Medicine, is co-senior author on the first study.Toward safer, more productive, more versatile biotechRecoded genomes can confer protection against viruses — which limit productivity in the biotech industry — and help prevent the spread of potentially dangerous genetically engineered traits to wild organisms.”In science we talk a lot about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of things, but in this case, the ‘why’ is very important,” Church said, explaining how this project is part of an ongoing effort to improve the safety, productivity and flexibility of biotechnology.”These results might also open a whole new chemical toolbox for biotech production,” said Isaacs. “For example, adding durable polymers to a therapeutic molecule could allow it to function longer in the human bloodstream.”But to have such an impact, the researchers said, large swaths of the genome need to be changed all at once.”If we make a few changes that make the microbe a little more resistant to a virus, the virus is going to compensate. …

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New theory of synapse formation in the brain

Oct. 10, 2013 — The human brain keeps changing throughout a person’s lifetime. New connections are continually created while synapses that are no longer in use degenerate. To date, little is known about the mechanisms behind these processes. Jülich neuroinformatician Dr. Markus Butz has now been able to ascribe the formation of new neural networks in the visual cortex to a simple homeostatic rule that is also the basis of many other self-regulating processes in nature. With this explanation, he and his colleague Dr. Arjen van Ooyen from Amsterdam also provide a new theory on the plasticity of the brain — and a novel approach to understanding learning processes and treating brain injuries and diseases.The brains of adult humans are by no means hard wired. Scientists have repeatedly established this fact over the last few years using different imaging techniques. This so-called neuroplasticity not only plays a key role in learning processes, it also enables the brain to recover from injuries and compensate for the loss of functions. …

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Previously unstudied gene is essential for normal nerve development

Oct. 10, 2013 — Our ability to detect heat, touch, tickling and other sensations depends on our sensory nerves. Now, for the first time, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have identified a gene that orchestrates the crucially important branching of nerve fibers that occurs during development. The findings were published online today in the journal Cell.The research focuses on dendrites, the string-like extensions of sensory nerves that penetrate tissues of the skin, eyes and other sensory organs. “The formation of dendritic branches — ‘arbors’ as we call them — is vital for allowing sensory nerves to collect information and sample the environment appropriately,” said Hannes Buelow, Ph.D., senior author of the Cell paper and associate professor of genetics at Einstein. “These arbors vary greatly in shape and complexity, reflecting the different types of sensory input they receive. The loss of dendritic complexity has been linked to a range of neurological problems including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.” Dr. Buelow is also associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience.The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, revealed that humans possess some 20,500 genes and determined the DNA sequence of each. But for many of those genes, their function in the body has remained unknown. …

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Stress may lead to false confessions

Sep. 11, 2013 — Imagine if you were wrongly accused of a crime. Would you be stressed? Anyone would be, but Iowa State University researchers found the innocent are often less stressed than the guilty. And that could put them at greater risk to admit to a crime they didn’t commit.To better understand what leads to false confessions, Max Guyll, an assistant professor of psychology, and Stephanie Madon, an associate professor of psychology, measured various indicators of stress, such as blood pressure, heart rate and nervous system activity. In the study, published in Law and Human Behavior, stress levels increased for all participants when they were first accused. However, the levels for those wrongly accused were significantly lower. Researchers said that’s a concern because it can make the innocent less likely to vigorously defend themselves in a real interrogation.”The innocent are less stressed because they believe their innocence is going to protect them and they think everything is going to be OK, so there is no reason to get worked up over this accusation,” Madon said. “But if you’re going into a police interrogation and you’re not on your guard, then you could make decisions that down the line will put you at risk for a false confession. Because once you talk to police, you’re opening up the chance that they’re going to use manipulative and coercive tactics.”Minimization is one of those tactics used in interrogations and the tactic Madon and Guyll used in their study. …

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