Epigenetic changes can drive cancer, study shows

Cancer has long been thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but in recent decades scientists have come to believe that epigenetic changes — which don’t change the DNA sequence but how it is ‘read’ — also play a role in cancer. In particular DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group (or molecule), is an epigenetic switch that can stably turn off genes, suggesting the potential to cause cancer just as a genetic mutation can. Until now, however, direct evidence that DNA methylation drives cancer formation was lacking.Researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital have now created a mouse model providing the first in vivo evidence that epigenetic alterations alone can cause cancer. Their report appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.”We knew that epigenetic changes are associated with cancer, but didn’t know whether these were a cause or consequence of cancer. Developing this new approach for ‘epigenetic engineering’ allowed us to test whether DNA methylation changes alone can drive cancer,” said Dr. Lanlan Shen, associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor and senior author of the study.Shen and colleagues focused on p16, a gene that normally functions to prevent cancer but is commonly methylated in a broad spectrum of human cancers. They devised an approach to engineer DNA methylation specifically to the mouse p16 regulatory region (promoter). As intended, the engineered p16 promoter acted as a ‘methylation magnet’. As the mice reached adulthood, gradually increasing p16 methylation led to a higher incidence of spontaneous cancers, and reduced survival.”This is not only the first in vivo evidence that epigenetic alteration alone can cause cancer,” said Shen. “This also has profound implications for future studies, because epigenetic changes are potentially reversible. …

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Designer potatoes on the menu to boost consumption

A decline in overall potato consumption has Texas A&M AgriLife Research breeders working on “designer” spuds that meet the time constraints and unique tastes of a younger generation.Dr. Creighton Miller, AgriLife Research potato breeder from College Station, recently conducted the Texas A&M Potato Breeding and Variety Development Program field day at the farm of cooperator Bruce Barrett south of Springlake.”Potatoes are an important delivery system for nutrients to humans,” Miller said. “The average consumption in the U.S. is 113 pounds per year per person. But overall potato consumption in the U.S. has generally declined somewhat.”So what we are doing now is developing unique varieties that have a tendency to appeal to the younger set with high income who are willing to try something different,” he said. “This has contributed to an increase in consumption of these types over the russets, which are still the standard.”Miller said the objective of the Texas A&M potato breeding program is to develop improved varieties adapted specifically to Texas environmental conditions.”However, some of our varieties are widely adapted across the U.S.,” he said. “Three of them collectively represent the fifth-largest number of acres certified for seed production in the U.S., so we’ve released some successful varieties,and we are developing more all the time.”The Texas Potato Variety Development Program currently has 412 entries at the Springlake trials and 927 entries at the Dalhart trials. Additionally, the 2014 seedling selection trials at both Springlake and Dalhart include 115,408 seedlings from 634 families or crosses.One selected Best of Trial at Springlake this year is BTX2332-IR, which is a round red potato. And, he said, the traditional russet potatoes will always be a mainstay, as they are used primarily for baking and French fries. …

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Soy-dairy protein blend increases muscle mass, study shows

A new study published online in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows additional benefits of consuming a blend of soy and dairy proteins after resistance exercise for building muscle mass. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch found that using a protein blend of soy, casein and whey post-workout prolongs the delivery of select amino acids to the muscle for an hour longer than using whey alone. It also shows a prolonged increase in amino acid net balance across the leg muscle during early post-exercise recovery, suggesting prolonged muscle building.The study was conducted by researchers from UTMB in collaboration with DuPont Nutrition and Health. “This study sheds new light on how unique combinations of proteins, as opposed to single protein sources, are important for muscle recovery following exercise and help extend amino acid availability, further promoting muscle growth,” said Blake B. Rasmussen, chairman of UTMB’s Department of Nutrition and Metabolism and lead researcher of the study.This new research, using state-of-the-art methodology, builds on an earlier publication reporting that a soy-dairy blend extends muscle protein synthesis when compared to whey alone, as only the blended protein kept synthesis rates elevated three to five hours after exercise. Together, these studies indicate that the use of soy-dairy blends can be an effective strategy for active individuals seeking products to support muscle health.”Because of the increased demand for high-quality protein, this study provides critical insight for the food industry as a whole, and the sports nutrition market in particular,” said Greg Paul, global marketing director for DuPont Nutrition and Health. “With more and more consumers recognizing the importance of protein for their overall health and well-being, the results of this study have particular relevance to a large segment of the population, from the serious sports and fitness enthusiast to the mainstream consumer.”The double-blind, randomized clinical trial included 16 healthy subjects, ages 19 to 30, to assess if consumption of a blend of proteins with different digestion rates would prolong amino acid availability and lead to increases in muscle protein synthesis after exercise. The protein beverages provided to study subjects consisted of a soy-dairy blend (25 percent isolated DuPont Danisco SUPRO soy protein, 50 percent caseinate, 25 percent whey protein isolate) or a single protein source (whey protein isolate). Muscle biopsies were taken at baseline and up to five hours after resistance exercise. The protein sources were ingested one hour after exercise in both groups.The study demonstrates that consuming a soy-dairy blend leads to a steady rise in amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. …

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Neurotics don’t just avoid action: They dislike it, study finds

That person we all seem to know who we say is neurotic and unable to take action? Turns out he or she isn’t unable to act but simply doesn’t want to.A study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries has uncovered new details about why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with life. Turns out that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don’t like it as much as non-neurotics. Therefore persuasive communications and other interventions may be useful if they simply alter neurotics’ attitudes toward inaction.These findings come the study “Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries.” It is published in the Journal of Personality and was written by Molly E. Ireland, Texas Tech University; Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hong Li, Battelle Center for Analytics and Public Health; and Dolores Albarracn -the principal investigator of the study– from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.”You’re so neurotic!” It’s a phrase that’s tossed about casually, but what exactly is neuroticism? It is a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect — including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness — that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.The researchers sought to determine whether and under what conditions neuroticism is associated with favorable or unfavorable representations of action and inaction. They investigated whether depression and anxiety would decrease proactive behavior among neurotic individuals, and whether a person’s collectivistic tendencies — considering the social consequences of one’s behavior before acting — would moderate the negative associations between neuroticism and action/inaction. The study found neurotics look at action less favorably and inaction more favorably than emotionally stable people do.”People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals’ less positive attitudes toward action. …

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Monarch butterfly numbers could be at historic lows this year, study suggests

Monarch butterflies may be named for their large size and majestic beauty, but once again their numbers are anything but king-sized — in fact, 2014 may go down as one of the worst years ever for the colorful insects, says a Texas A&M Monarch watcher who is proposing a national effort to help feed Monarchs.Craig Wilson, a senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and a longtime butterfly enthusiast, says reports coming from Mexico where the Monarchs have their overwintering grounds show their numbers are significantly down yet again — so much so that this year might be one of the lowest yet for the butterfly.It’s been a disturbing trend that has been going for most of the past decade, he points out. This year, Monarchs face a triple whammy: a lingering drought, unusually cold winter temperatures and lack of milkweed, their primary food source.Citing figures from the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund, Wilson says, “In 1996, the Monarch breeding grounds in Mexico covered about 45 acres, and so far this year, it looks like only about 1.65 acres. That means fewer Monarchs will likely reach Texas to lay eggs, perhaps the lowest numbers ever of returning butterflies.”Wilson says the colder-than-usual winter, which set record lows in many parts of Texas and even Mexico, has had a chilling effect on Monarchs.”Unfortunately, the harsh and lingering cold conditions mean that the milkweed plants that Monarch caterpillars must have to live have yet to start growing, and these are the only plants on which they can lay eggs to provide food for their caterpillars,” he adds.Wilson says that last fall, the number of Monarchs that were netted and tagged in the College Station area was one-fifth the number tagged in 2012.The dry conditions during the past decade and changing farming practices are hampering the growth of milkweed, the only type of plant the Monarch caterpillars will digest as the multiple generational migration heads north.Texas also has had dozens of wildfires in the past few years that have hampered milkweed growth, and even though there are more than 30 types of milkweed in the state, the numbers are not there to sustain the Monarchs as they start their 2,000-mile migration trip to Canada. Increased use of pesticides is also adversely affecting milkweed production in a huge way, he notes.”The severe drought in Texas and much of the Southwest continues to wreak havoc with the number of Monarchs,” Wilson explains, adding that the wintering sites in the Mexican state of Michoacn are at near-historic lows.”The conditions have been dry both here and in Mexico in recent years. It takes four generations of the insects to make it all of the way up to Canada, and because of lack of milkweed along the way, a lot of them just don’t make it.”But if people want to help, they can pick up some milkweed plants right now at local farmer’s cooperative stores,” he says, “and this would be a small but helpful step to aid in their migration journey and to raise awareness of the plight.”Wilson says there has to be a national effort to save Monarchs or their declining numbers will reach the critical stage.”We need a national priority of planting milkweed to assure that this magical migration of Monarchs will continue for future generations,” he says.”If we could get several states to collaborate, we might be able to promote a program where the north-south interstates were planted with milkweed, such as Lady Bird Johnson’s program to plant native seeds along Texas highways 35-40 years ago. This would provide a ‘feeding’ corridor right up to Canada for the Monarchs.”Wilson is currently adding a variety of milkweed plants to the existing Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden on the Texas A&M campus. He recommends the following sites for Monarch followers: Journey North, Texas Monarch Watch and Monarch Watch.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Texas A&M University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Web Tool Successfully Measures Farms’ Water Footprint

A new University of Florida web-based tool worked well during its trial run to measure water consumption at farms in four Southern states, according to a study published this month.The system measures the so-called “water footprint” of a farm. In the broader sense, water footprints account for the amount of water used to grow or create almost everything we eat, drink, wear or otherwise use.Researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences introduced their WaterFootprint tool in the March issue of the journal Agricultural Systems, after using it to calculate water consumption at farms in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. The WaterFootprint is part of the AgroClimate system, developed by Clyde Fraisse, a UF associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. AgroClimate is a web resource, aimed primarily at agricultural producers, that includes interactive tools and data for reducing agricultural risks.WaterFootprint, developed primarily by Daniel Dourte, a research associate in agricultural and biological engineering, estimates water use in crop production across the U.S. WaterFootprint looks at a farm in a specific year or growing season and gives you its water footprint, Dourte said. With UF’s WaterFootprint system, users provide their location by ZIP code, the crop, planting and harvesting dates, yield, soil type, tillage and water management.The tool also retrieves historical weather data and uses it to estimate the blue and green water footprints of crop production, Dourte said. Water footprints separate water use into green, which is rainfall; blue, from a freshwater resource; and gray, an accounting of water quality, after it’s been polluted.Water footprints can be viewed at the farm level or globally. For instance, if irrigation water is used to grow crops, it is essentially exported, Dourte said.Once products are shipped overseas, the water used to grow the commodity goes with it, and it may not return for a long time — if ever, Dourte said. That’s a problem if the crop is grown in a region where water is scarce, he said.But there’s often a tradeoff, he said. Global food trade saves billions of gallons of water each year, as food is exported from humid, temperate places to drier locales that would have used much more water to grow crops, Dourte said.”The U.S. …

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BPA linked to breast cancer tumor growth

UT Arlington biochemists say their newly published study brings researchers a step closer to understanding how the commonly used synthetic compound bisphenol-A, or BPA, may promote breast cancer growth.Subhrangsu Mandal, associate professor of chemistry/biochemistry, and Arunoday Bhan, a PhD student in Mandal’s lab, looked at a molecule called RNA HOTAIR. HOTAIR is an abbreviation for long, non-coding RNA, a part of DNA in humans and other vertebrates. HOTAIR does not produce a protein on its own but, when it is being expressed or functioning, it can suppress genes that would normally slow tumor growth or cause cancer cell death.High levels of HOTAIR expression have been linked to breast tumors, pancreatic and colorectal cancers, sarcoma and others.UT Arlington researchers found that when breast cancer and mammary gland cells were exposed to BPA in lab tests, the BPA worked together with naturally present molecules, including estrogen, to create abnormal amounts of HOTAIR expression. Their results were published online in February by the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.”We can’t immediately say BPA causes cancer growth, but it could well contribute because it is disrupting the genes that defend against that growth,” said Mandal, who is corresponding author on the paper.”Understanding the developmental impact of these synthetic hormones is an important way to protect ourselves and could be important for treatment,” he said.Bhan is lead author on the new paper. Co-authors include Mandal lab members Imran Hussain and Khairul I Ansari, as well as Linda I. Perrotti, a UT Arlington psychology assistant professor, and Samara A.M. Bobzean, a member of Perrotti’s lab.”We were surprised to find that BPA not only increased HOTAIR in tumor cells but also in normal breast tissue,” said Bhan. He said further research is needed, but the results beg the question — are BPA and HOTAIR involved in tumor genesis in addition to tumor growth?BPA has been widely used in plastics, such as food storage containers, the lining of canned goods and, until recently, baby bottles. It belongs to a class of endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which have been shown to mimic natural hormones. These endocrine disruptors interfere with hormone regulation and proper function of human cells, glands and tissue. …

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As hubs for bees, pollinators, flowers may be crucial in disease transmission

Like a kindergarten or a busy airport where cold viruses and other germs circulate freely, flowers are common gathering places where pollinators such as bees and butterflies can pick up fungal, bacterial or viral infections that might be as benign as the sniffles or as debilitating as influenza.But “almost nothing is known regarding how pathogens of pollinators are transmitted at flowers,” postdoctoral researcher Scott McArt and Professor Lynn Adler at the University of Massachusetts Amherst write. “As major hubs of plant-animal interactions throughout the world, flowers are ideal venues for the transmission of microbes among plants and animals.”In a recent review in Ecology Letters with colleagues at Yale and the University of Texas at Austin, McArt and Adler survey the literature and identify promising areas for future research on how floral traits influence pathogen transmission.As the authors point out, “Given recent concerns about pollinator declines caused in part by pathogens, the role of floral traits in mediating pathogen transmission is a key area for further research.” They say their synthesis could help efforts to control economically devastating pollinator-vectored plant pathogens such as fire blight, which affects rose family fruits such as apples and pears, and mummyberry disease, which attacks blueberries.McArt adds, “Our intent with this paper is to stimulate interest in the fascinating yet poorly understood microbial world of flowers. We found several generalities in how plant pathogens are transmitted at flowers, yet the major take-home from our paper may be in pointing out that this is an important gap in our knowledge.”The authors identified 187 studies pertaining to plant pathogens published between 1947 and 2013 in which floral visitors were implicated in transmission and where transmission must have occurred at flowers or pathogen-induced pseudoflowers. These are flower-like structures made by a pathogen that can look and smell like a real flower, for example. Regarding animal pathogens, they identified 618 studies published before September 2013 using the same criteria.”In total, we found eight major groups of animal pathogens that are potentially transmitted at flowers, including a trypanosomatid, fungi, bacteria and RNA viruses,” they note. Their paper, “Arranging the bouquet of disease: Floral traits and the transmission of plant and animal pathogens,” was featured in the publisher’s “News Round-Up” of “most newsworthy research.”Traditionally, research on flower evolution has focused largely on selection by pollinators, but as McArt and colleagues point out, pollinators that also transmit pathogens may reduce the benefits to the plant of attracting them, depending on the costs and benefits of pollination. The researchers say more work is needed before scientists can know whether a flower’s chemical or physical traits determine the likelihood that pathogens are transmitted, for example, and whether infection by pathogens is an inevitable consequence of pollinator visitation.”Plant pathologists have made great strides in identifying floral traits that mediate host plant resistance to floral pathogens in individual systems; synthesizing this literature can provide generality in identifying traits that mediate plant-pathogen dynamics. From the pollinator’s perspective, there has been surprisingly little work elucidating the role of flowers and floral traits for pathogen transmission. Given recent concerns about pollinator declines caused in part by pathogens, understanding the role of floral traits in disease transmission is a key missing element,” say McArt and colleagues.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Even fact will not change first impressions

Knowledge is power, yet new research suggests that a person’s appearance alone can trump knowledge. First impressions are so powerful that they can override what we are told about people. A new study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, participants generally identified the person’s sexual orientation based on how they looked — even if it contradicted the facts presented to them.”We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” says Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent, but we are continually tasked with needing to correct ourselves.” The less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact, he says.A series of recent studies, presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin, shows that appearance shapes everything from whether we ultimately end up liking someone to our assessment of their sexual orientation or trustworthiness. And researchers say that whether a first impression occurs online versus in person is important. While we may be able to size up someone’s personality from a Facebook photo, it will often be more negative impression than one formed face-to-face.Appearance trumps fact”As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed,” Rule says. “This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.”In the study on first impressions of sexual orientation, Rule and colleagues showed 100 participants photos of 20 men, identifying them either as gay or straight. The photos had been previously coded based on a consensus opinion on whether the men “looked” gay or straight, which accurately matched to their real-life sexual orientations. The researchers then tested participants’ recall of the men’s sexual orientations several times to ensure perfect memorization.After this learning phase, the researchers then showed participants the faces again, varying the amount of time they had to categorize the men’s sexual orientations. The less time they had to categorize the faces, the more likely the participants were to categorize the men according to whether they looked gay or straight rather than what they had been told about their sexuality. …

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Revision to rules for color in dinosaurs suggests connection between color and physiology

New research that revises the rules allowing scientists to decipher color in dinosaurs may also provide a tool for understanding the evolutionary emergence of flight and changes in dinosaur physiology prior to its origin.In a survey comparing the hair, skin, fuzz and feathers of living terrestrial vertebrates and fossil specimens, a research team from The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Akron, the China University of Geosciences and four other Chinese institutions found evidence for evolutionary shifts in the rules that govern the relationship between color and the shape of pigment-containing organelles known as melanosomes, as reported in the Feb. 13 edition of Nature.At the same time, the team unexpectedly discovered that ancient maniraptoran dinosaurs, paravians, and living mammals and birds uniquely shared the evolutionary development of diverse melanosome shapes and sizes. (Diversity in the shape and size of melanosomes allows scientists to decipher color.) The evolution of diverse melanosomes in these organisms raises the possibility that melanosome shape and size could yield insights into dinosaur physiology.Melanosomes have been at the center of recent research that has led scientists to suggest the colors of ancient fossil specimens covered in fuzz or feathers.Melanosomes contain melanin, the most common light-absorbing pigment found in animals. Examining the shape of melanosomes from fossil specimens, scientists have recently suggested the color of several ancient species, including the fuzzy first-discovered feathered dinosaur Sinosauropteryx, and feathered species like Microraptor and Anchiornis.According to the new research, color-decoding works well for some species, but the color of others may be trickier than thought to reconstruct.Comparing melanosomes of 181 extant specimens, 13 fossil specimens and all previously published data on melanosome diversity, the researchers found that living turtles, lizards and crocodiles, which are ectothermic (commonly known as cold-blooded), show much less diversity in the shape of melanosomes than birds and mammals, which are endothermic (warm-blooded, with higher metabolic rates).The limited diversity in melanosome shape among living ectotherms shows little correlation to color. The same holds true for fossil archosaur specimens with fuzzy coverings scientists have described as “protofeathers” or “pycnofibers.” In these specimens, melanosome shape is restricted to spherical forms like those in modern reptiles, throwing doubt on the ability to decipher the color of these specimens from fossil melanosomes.In contrast, in the dinosaur lineage leading to birds, the researchers found an explosion in the diversity of melanosome shape and size that appears to correlate to an explosion of color within these groups. The shift in diversity took place abruptly, near the origin of pinnate feathers in maniraptoran dinosaurs.”This points to a profound change at a pretty discrete point,” says author Julia Clarke of The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. “We’re seeing an explosion of melanosome diversity right before the origin of flight associated with the origin of feathers.”What surprised the researchers was a similarity in the pattern of melanosome diversity among ancient maniraptoran dinosaurs, paravians, and living mammals and birds.”Only in living, warm-blooded vertebrates that independently evolved higher metabolic rates do we see the melanosome diversity we also see in feathered dinosaurs,” said co-author Matthew Shawkey of The University of Akron.Many of the genes involved in the melanin color system are also involved in other core processes such as food intake, the stress axis, and reproductive behaviors. Because of this, note the researchers, it is possible that the evolution of diverse melanosome shapes is linked to larger changes in energetics and physiology.Melanosome shape could end up offering a new tool for studying endothermy in fossil specimens, a notoriously challenging subject for paleontologists.Because the explosion of diversity in melanosomes appears to have taken place right at the origin of pinnate feathers, the change may indicate that a key shift in dinosaurian physiology occurred prior to the origin of flight.”We are far from understanding the exact nature of the shift that may have occurred,” says Clarke. “But if changes in genes involved in both coloration and other aspects of physiology explain the pattern we see, these precede flight and arise close to the origin of feathers.”It is possible, notes Clarke, that a diversity in melanosome shape (and correlated color changes) resulted from an increased evolutionary role for signaling and sexual selection that had a carryover effect on physiology, or that a change in physiology closely preceded changes in color patterning. At this point, she stresses, both ideas are speculative.”What is interesting is that trying to get at color in extinct animals may have just started to give us some insights into changes in the physiology of dinosaurs.”

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Brief memory test ‘ages’ older adults

Oct. 15, 2013 — You’re only as old as you feel, or so the saying goes. Now, research suggests that a simple memory test can have a noticeable impact on just how old some older adults feel, aging them about five years in the span of five minutes. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.”Previous work shows that how old one feels — one’s subjective age — predicts significant health outcomes, even better than one’s chronological age predicts these outcomes,” says senior researcher Lisa Geraci of Texas A&M University. “These new results are exciting because they suggest that subjective age is malleable, and that we may be able to change subjective age and influence older adults’ cognition and behavior.”Given stereotypes that associate aging with memory problems, Geraci and graduate students Matthew Hughes and Ross DeForrest hypothesized that having to take a memory test would highlight age identity for older adults, making them feel older than they would otherwise feel.In their first study, the researchers recruited 22 older adults ranging in age from 65 to 85 and asked them to indicate how old they felt on a line marked only with endpoints of 0 and 120. The participants were then given a brief test that assessed various aspects of cognitive functioning and a memory recall test. The participants then indicated their subjective age on the line one more time.At the beginning of the study, the participants reported feeling about 58.59 years old, considerably younger than their average chronological age of 75.05.After taking the memory test, however, their subjective age increased to an average of 63.14 years old, almost 5 years older than their initial report.Further studies showed that the effect was specific to older adults and to memory tests — there was no aging effect for younger adults or for older adults who took a vocabulary test instead of a memory test.A final study revealed that the memory test itself isn’t necessary to elicit the effect: Simply reading the instructions for the memory test was enough to induce a subjective aging effect among older participants.”This research shows that simply putting an older adult in a memory testing context affects how they feel about themselves,” says Geraci.Notably, participants didn’t show any actual memory problems, suggesting that it was their perception of their ability — rather than their actual ability — that affected how old they felt.Geraci and her students are currently looking at other sorts of activities that influence subjective age, and they’re also exploring whether there are some tasks that actually make older adults feel younger.

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Workers Compensation

Despite the best actions of employers and employees, accidents on the job do happen. Whether an employee works behind a desk, drives behind a wheel, or stands behind a counter, things can go wrong and injuries can occur. Regardless of their nature, injuries and illnesses have financial, emotional, and personal costs – including lost wages, lost earning potential, and physical pain and suffering.In the event of a job-related injury, laws are in place to protect workers’ rights. In every state but Texas, almost all employers are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance in order to cover medical expenses that result from work-related illnesses and injuries, and to partially replace workers’ lost wages.This mandate incurs a large cost for employers.A report from the National Academy of Social Insurance indicated that in 2007, 131 million U.S. workers were covered by workers’ compensation insurance at a cost of $85 billion dollars to employers. If those numbers seem extreme, consider these numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:Nearly three million cases of non-fatal illness and injury were documented in the private sector in 2011, equal to a rate of 3.5 cases per every 100 full-time workers. A key measure of the severity of injuries and illnesses is the median number of days away from work, which was eight days for 2011, and virtually unchanged from the three previous years. In 2010, nearly 4,700 workers died as a result of injuries sustained while at work – which translates to one worker dying every two hours from a job-related injury. Highway incidents remain the most common cause of fatal occupational injuries, followed by falls, workplace homicides, and being struck by objects. In 2010, the private construction industry experienced the highest number of fatal occupational injuries (774), while the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry had the highest fatal work injury rate (27.9 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers). …

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Seeking Legal Help, Part 2 of 2

On our blog last week, we looked at why mesothelioma victims sometimes turn to the legal system for help. But many mesothelioma victims are hesitant to take action, because they are unfamiliar with the legal process, and the prospect of dealing with a legal battle may seem insurmountable given their physical condition. In truth, the process is more simple than you may imagine.First, it is critical to select a lawyer carefully. Be sure that you understand who will actually be handling your case. Sometimes people hire a lawyer, not realizing that their case will be handed off to someone else. Finding this out after the contract is signed can be an unwelcome surprise at a difficult time.Be sure to inquire into the case history and …

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Cancer genome atlas exposes more secrets of lethal brain tumor

Oct. 10, 2013 — When The Cancer Genome Atlas launched its massively collaborative approach to organ-by-organ genomic analysis of cancers, the brain had both the benefit, and the challenge, of going first.TCGA ganged up on glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and lethal of brain tumors, with more than 100 scientists from 14 institutions tracking down the genomic abnormalities that drive GBM.Five years later, older and wiser, TCGA revisited glioblastoma, producing a broader, deeper picture of the drivers — and potential therapeutic targets — of the disease published in the Oct. 10 issue of Cell.”The first paper in 2008 characterized glioblastoma in important new ways and illuminated the path for all TCGA organ studies that have followed,” said senior author Lynda Chin, M.D., professor and chair of Genomic Medicine and scientific director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.”Our new study reflects major improvements in technology applied to many more tumor samples to more completely characterize the landscape of genomic alterations in glioblastoma,” said Chin, who was also co-senior author of the first paper while she was on the faculty of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.”Information generated by this unbiased, data-driven analysis presents new opportunities to discover genomics-based biomarkers, understand disease mechanisms and generate new hypotheses to develop better, targeted therapies,” Chin said.About 23,000 new cases of GBM are predicted in the United States during 2013 and more than 14,000 people expected to die of the disease. Most patients die within 15 months of diagnosis.Well of rich, detailed data will nurture better treatmentNew information about genetic mutations, deletions and amplifications; gene expression and epigenetic regulation; structural changes due to chromosomal alterations, proteomic effects and the molecular networks that drive GBM make for a deep, broad dataset that will underpin research and clinical advances for years to come.”Our main contribution is this tremendous resource for the GBM research community, which is already heavily relying on the earlier TCGA study,” said co-lead author Roeland Verhaak, Ph.D., assistant professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at MD Anderson. “Whatever new treatments people come up with for GBM, I’m very confident that their discovery and development will in some way have benefited from this rich and detailed data set,” he said.The Cell paper describes analysis of tumor samples and molecular data from 599 patients at 17 study sites. Detailed clinical information including treatment and survival was available for almost all cases.New targetable mutationsIn addition to confirming significantly mutated genes discovered earlier, such as the tumor suppressors TP53, PTEN and RB1 and the oncogene PIK3CA, the analysis identified 61 new mutated genes. The most frequent mutations occurred in from 1.7 to 9 percent of cases.Two of these, BRAF and FGFR, might have more immediate clinical relevance, Verhaak noted. MD Anderson neuro-oncologists are checking to see if patients have these mutations. Drugs are available to address those variations now, Verhaak said. The BRAF point mutation in GBM is the same commonly found in melanoma, which is treated by a new class of drugs.More twists and turns for EGFRThe larger data set and an improved analytical algorithm allowed major refinement of gene amplification and deletion information. …

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Versatile microRNAs choke off cancer blood supply, suppress metastasis

Sep. 11, 2013 — A family of microRNAs (miR-200) blocks cancer progression and metastasis by stifling a tumor’s ability to weave new blood vessels to support itself, researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center report today in Nature Communications.Patients with lung, ovarian, kidney or triple-negative breast cancers live longer if they have high levels of miR-200 expression, the researchers found.Subsequent experiments showed for the first time that miR-200 hinders new blood vessel development, or angiogenesis, and does so by targeting cytokines interleukin-8 (IL-8) and CXCL1.”Nanoparticle delivery of miR-200 blocked new blood vessel development, reduced cancer burden and inhibited metastasis in mouse models of all four cancers,” said Anil Sood, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology, senior author of the study.The team’s findings highlight the therapeutic potential of nanoparticle-delivered miR-200 and of IL-8 as a possible biomarker for identifying patients who might benefit from treatment. Sood said safety studies will need to be completed before clinical development can begin.Micro RNAs do not code for genes like their cousins, the messenger RNAs. They regulate gene activation and expression.”We initially looked at miR-200 because we have an approach for targeting and delivering these molecules with nanoparticles and miR-200 is known to inhibit EMT, a cellular transition associated with cancer progression and metastasis,” said Sood, who also holds the Bettyann Asche Murray Distinguished Professorship in Ovarian Cancer Research.First author Chad Pecot, M.D., a fellow in Cancer Medicine, said initial research provided a new perspective. “Cautionary tales emerged from the literature about poor outcomes in hormone-positive breast cancer, so we decided to delve more deeply into understanding the mechanisms involved.”miR-200 effect differs by breast cancer typeSood and colleagues analyzed hundreds of annotated ovarian, renal, breast and non-small cell lung cancer samples from The Cancer Genome Atlas for expression of all five miR-200 family members. Low expression of miR-200 was associated with poor survival in lung, ovarian and renal cancers, but improved survival for breast cancer.However, they found a striking difference when they analyzed breast cancers by those that are hormone-receptor positive (luminal) and those that lack hormone receptors or the HER2 protein, called triple-negative breast cancer. High expression for miR-200 was associated with improved survival for triple-negative disease, which is more difficult to treat due to its lack of therapeutic targets.Gene expression analysis of ovarian and lung cancer cell lines pointed to an angiogenesis network involving both IL-8 and CXCL1. By mining public miRNA and messenger RNA databases, the researchers found:• An inverse relationship between expression of four of the five members of the miR-200 family and IL-8. • Lung, ovarian, kidney and triple-negative breast cancer all have elevated IL-8 and CXCL1 expression compared to hormone-positive breast cancers. • Elevated IL-8 associated with poor overall survival in lung, ovarian, renal and triple-negative breast cancer cases.Treating cancer cell lines with miR-200 decreased levels of IL-8 and CXCL1, and the team also identified binding sites for these genes, meaning they are direct miR-200 targets.Mice treated with miR-200 family members delivered in a fatty nanoparticle developed by Sood and Gabriel Lopez, M.D., professor of Experimental Therapeutics, had steep reductions in lung cancer tumor volume, tumor size and the density of small blood vessels compared to controls. …

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How do consumers compare prices? It depends on how powerful they feel

Sep. 10, 2013 — Your reaction to the price on a bottle of wine or another product is partly a response to how powerful you feel, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.”The degree to which one feels powerful influences which type of price comparison threatens their sense of self-importance and, in turn, affects the perception of price unfairness,” write authors Liyin Jin, Yanqun He (both Fudan University), and Ying Zhang (University of Texas, Austin).Variations in price are common in today’s market, the authors explain, but companies risk consumers’ wrath when those customers perceive unfairness. According to the authors, consumers have two main ways of evaluating the fairness of a price: they compare with what they’ve paid for the same item in the past (self-comparison) or they ask how the price compares with what other customers are paying (other-comparison). The authors looked at the ways consumers’ self-perceptions affected their reactions to the two kinds of comparisons.In one study, the authors found that participants who felt powerful experienced more unfairness when it appeared that they were paying more than others. But people who did not feel powerful experienced more unfairness when they used self-comparisons. The study also revealed that “high-power” participants were more likely to get angry about unfairness and indicated they were more likely to complain about the perceived unfairness. Meanwhile the “low-power” individuals were more likely to feel sad and to use tactics to avoid thinking about the unfair price.”Our findings suggest important ways that marketing professionals can engage customers of different power statuses,” the authors write. “For example, when marketing to high-power customers, one can better elicit preference by highlighting the special treatment that they are receiving in relation to other customers. Conversely, when the target customers are relatively low in power, loyalty may be better cultivated by highlighting the consistency in service or the level of commitment to these customers.”

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Neuroscientists find a key to reducing forgetting: It’s about the network

Aug. 29, 2013 — A team of neuroscientists has found a key to the reduction of forgetting. Their findings, which appear in the journal Neuron, show that the better the coordination between two regions of the brain, the less likely we are to forget newly obtained information.The study was conducted at New York University by Lila Davachi, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, and Kaia Vilberg, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas’ Center for Vital Longevity and School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences in Dallas.”When memories are supported by greater coordination between different parts of the brain, it’s a sign that they are going to last longer,” explained Davachi.It is commonly understood that the key to memory consolidation — the cementing of an experience or information in our brain — is signaling from the brain’s hippocampus across different cortical areas. Moreover, it has been hypothesized, but never proven, that the greater the distribution of signaling, the stronger the memory takes hold in our brain.In the Neuron study, Davachi and Vilberg sought to determine if there was scientific support for this theory.To do so, they examined how memories are formed at their earliest stages through a series of experiments over a three-day period.On day one of the study, the researchers aimed to encode, or create, new memories among the study’s subjects. Here, they showed participants a series of images — objects and outdoor scenes, both of which were paired with words. Here, subjects were asked to form an association between the word and image presented on the screen.On day two, the subjects returned to the lab and completed another round of encoding tasks using new sets of visuals and words. This allowed to the researchers to compare two types of memory: the more consolidated, long duration (LD) memories encoded on day one with the less consolidated, short duration (SD) memories encoded on day two.After a short break, participants were placed in an MRI machine — in order to monitor neural activity — and viewed the same visual-word pairings they saw on days one and two as well as a new round of visuals paired with words. They then completed a memory test of approximately half of the visual-word pairings they’d seen thus far. On day three, they returned to the lab for a memory test on the remaining visuals.By testing over multiple days, the researchers were able to isolate memories that declined or were preserved over time and, with it, better understand the neurological factors that contribute to memory preservation.Their results showed that memories (i.e., the visual-word associations) that were not forgotten were associated with greater coordination between the hippocampus and left perirhinal cortex (LPRC) — two parts of the brain previously linked with memory formation. By contrast, there was notably less connectivity between these regions for visual-word associations that the study’s subjects tended to forget.Moreover, the researchers found that the coordinated brain activity between the hippocampus and the LPRC — but not overall activity in these regions — was related to memory strengthening, arguing for the network’s contribution to memory longevity.”These findings show the brain strengthens memories by distributing them across networks,” explained Davachi. …

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Learning how to migrate: Young whoopers stay the course when they follow a wise old bird

Aug. 29, 2013 — Scientists have studied bird migration for centuries, but it remains one of nature’s great mysteries. How do birds find their way over long distances between breeding and wintering sites? Is their migration route encoded in their genes, or is it learned?Working with records from a long-term effort to reintroduce critically endangered whooping cranes in the Eastern U.S., a University of Maryland-led research team found evidence that these long-lived birds learn their migration route from older cranes, and get better at it with age.Whooping crane groups that included a seven-year-old adult deviated 38% less from a migratory straight-line path between their Wisconsin breeding grounds and Florida wintering grounds, the researchers found. One-year-old birds that did not follow older birds veered, on average, 60 miles (97 kilometers) from a straight flight path. When the one-year-old cranes traveled with older birds, the average deviation was less than 40 miles (64 kilometers).Individual whoopers’ ability to stick to the route increased steadily each year up to about age 5, and remained roughly constant from that point on, the researchers found.Many migration studies are done in short-lived species like songbirds, or by comparing a young bird to an older bird, said UMD biologist Thomas Mueller, an expert on animal migration and the study’s lead scientist. “Here we could look over the course of the individual animals’ lifetimes, and show that learning takes place over many years.”The researchers’ findings, to be published August 30 in the journal Science, are based on data from an intensive effort to restore the endangered bird to its native range. The whooping crane (Grus americana), is North America’s largest bird, standing five feet tall, and one of its longest-lived, surviving 30 years or more in the wild. The species was near extinction in the 1940s, with fewer than 25 individuals. Today about 250 wild whoopers summer in Canada and migrate to Texas for the winter.The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, made up of government and non-profit experts, has been working since 2001 to establish a second population in the Eastern U.S., which now numbers more than 100 birds. …

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Scientists ‘spike’ stem cells to generate myelin

Aug. 28, 2013 — Stem cell technology has long offered the hope of regenerating tissue to repair broken or damaged neural tissue. Findings from a team of UC Davis investigators have brought this dream a step closer by developing a method to generate functioning brain cells that produce myelin — a fatty, insulating sheath essential to normal neural conduction.”Our findings represent an important conceptual advance in stem cell research,” said Wenbin Deng, principal investigator of the study and associate professor at the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine. “We have bioengineered the first generation of myelin-producing cells with superior regenerative capacity.”The brain is made up predominantly of two cell types: neurons and glial cells. Neurons are regarded as responsible for thought and sensation. Glial cells surround, support and communicate with neurons, helping neurons process and transmit information using electrical and chemical signals. One type of glial cell — the oligodendrocyte — produces a sheath called myelin that provides support and insulation to neurons. Myelin, which has been compared to insulation around electrical wires that helps to prevent short circuits, is essential for normal neural conduction and brain function; well-recognized conditions involving defective myelin development or myelin loss include multiple sclerosis and leukodystrophies.In this study, the UC Davis team first developed a novel protocol to efficiently induce embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to differentiate into oligodendroglial progenitor cells (OPCs), early cells that normally develop into oligodendrocytes. Although this has been successfully done by other researchers, the UC Davis method results in a purer population of OPCs, according to Deng, with fewer other cell types arising from their technique.They next compared electrophysiological properties of the derived OPCs to naturally occurring OPCs. They found that unlike natural OPCs, the ESC-derived OPCs lacked sodium ion channels in their cell membranes, making them unable to generate spikes when electrically stimulated. …

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New molecular mechanism tied to pancreatic cancer

Aug. 21, 2013 — New research led by scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and Baylor College of Medicine could aid efforts to diagnose and treat one of the most lethal and hard-to-treat types of cancer.In the EMBO Molecular Medicine journal, the investigators report that they have identified a new molecular mechanism that contributes to the spread of malignant tumors in the pancreas. The hope is that drugs could one day be developed to block this pathway.Most people with pancreatic cancer die within one to two years of diagnosis and it is expected to claim 38,460 lives in the United States in 2013. There are currently no effective tests for early detection and no effective therapies for the fast-spreading form.The study focused on the previously established link between zinc and pancreatic cancer and sought to identify a molecular mechanism responsible for the elevated levels found in human and animal cells. Zinc is an essential trace element and small amounts are important for human health.”We were the first to show that zinc transporter ZIP4 was a marker for pancreatic cancer,” said Min Li, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and associate professor and director of the Cancer Research Program in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at the UTHealth Medical School. “We knew there was a link but we didn’t know what it was.”Li is on the faculty of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston, which is a joint venture of UTHealth and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.Zinc levels are regulated by ZIP4, which acts as a master switch, and the researchers designed experiments to determine what happens when the switch is flipped on, Li said.In an animal model of pancreatic cancer, the scientists observed how the initiation of ZIP4 triggered the activation of two downstream genes, which in turn accounts for the increased tumor growth. Scientists describe this as a signaling cascade.”Pancreatic cancer is among the worst of all cancers. It is imperative to define the mechanism of this deadly disease. We have recently demonstrated a novel biological role for the zinc transporter ZIP4 in pancreatic cancer; however, the molecular pathway controlling this phenomenon remains elusive. …

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