Oil composition boost makes hemp a cooking contender

Scientists at the University of York today report the development of hemp plants with a dramatically increased content of oleic acid. The new oil profile results in an attractive cooking oil that is similar to olive oil in terms of fatty acid content having a much longer shelf life as well as greater heat tolerance and potentially more industrial applications.Researchers in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at York say that high oleic acid varieties are a major step towards developing hemp as a commercially attractive break crop for cereal farmers. The research is published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.Using fast-track molecular plant breeding, the scientists selected hemp plants lacking the active form of an enzyme involved in making polyunsaturated fatty acids. These plants made less poly-unsaturated fatty acids and instead accumulated higher levels of the mono-unsaturated oleic acid. The research team used conventional plant breeding techniques to develop the plants into a “High Oleic Hemp” line and higher oleic acid content was demonstrated in a Yorkshire field trial.Oil from the new line was almost 80 per cent oleic acid, compared with typical values of less than 10 per cent in the standard hemp line. This high mono-unsaturated/low poly-unsaturated fatty acid profile increases the oil’s thermal stability and oil from the new line was shown to have around five times the stability of standard hemp oil. This not only makes the oil more valuable as a cooking oil but also increases its usefulness for high temperature industrial processes.As oilseed rape faces declining yields and increasing attacks from pest and disease, UK farming needs another break crop to ensure the sustainability of its agriculture and maintain cereal yields. An improved hemp crop, yielding high quality oil would provide an excellent alternative. Hemp is a low-input crop and is also dual-purpose, with the straw being used as a fibre (for bedding, composites and textiles), for biomass and as a source of high value waxes and secondary metabolites.Professor Ian Graham, from CNAP, said: “The new line represents a major improvement in hemp as an oil crop. Similar developments in soybean and oilseed rape have opened up new markets for these crops, due to the perceived healthiness and increased stability of their oil.”In 2014 field trials of the new High Oleic Hemp are being rolled out across Europe in order to establish agronomic performance and yield under a range of environmental conditions in advance of launching a commercial crop.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. …

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It’s not just the heat, it’s the ozone: Hidden heat wave dangers exposed

July 19, 2013 — During heat waves — when ozone production rises — plants’ ozone absorption is curtailed, leaving more pollution in the air.This resulted in the loss of an estimated 460 lives in the UK in the hot summer of 2006.Vegetation plays a crucial role in reducing air pollution, but new research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York shows that they may not protect us when we need it most: during extreme heat, when ozone formation from traffic fumes, industrial processes and other sources is at its worst.The reason, explained lead author Dr Lisa Emberson, is that during heat waves — when the ground is especially dry — plants become stressed and shut their stomata (small pores on their leaves) to conserve water. This natural protective mechanism makes them more resilient to extreme heat and high ozone levels, but it also stops them from absorbing ozone and other pollutants.”Vegetation can absorb as much as 20 per cent of the global atmospheric ozone production, so the potential impact on air quality is substantial,” says Dr Emberson, a senior lecturer in the Environment Department at the University of York and director of SEI’s York Centre. “What we set out to do in this study was to quantify that impact in terms of increased ozone levels and the toll on human life.”The research team, which also included scientists at King’s College, London, focused on the summer of 2006, when a heat wave and drought occurred across the UK and much of Europe. They combined two models used for human health and ecosystem risk assessment to compare two scenarios, one with perfect ozone uptake by plants, and one with minimal ozone absorption.The difference between perfect and minimal uptake was equivalent to 16 days of ozone levels above the threshold for human safety across the entire UK — and as many as 20 days in the East Midlands and eastern UK. Using these same scenarios, the team also estimated that 970 premature deaths due to ozone would have occurred under minimal plant ozone uptake conditions over the June to July period; of these 460 could have been avoided if plants had been absorbing ozone at full capacity. All estimated premature deaths are in addition to human health and mortality impacts from the heat itself.”The most vulnerable people to ozone pollution are those with existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases,” explains Dr Emberson. “For example, ground-level ozone can lead to lung inflammation, decreased lung function, and an increase in asthma attacks. That is why, during high ozone episodes, especially in urban areas, people are generally advised not to do physical activity.”The study findings were published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. The research was financed by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).The timing of the publication coincides with yet another major heat wave in the UK, and Dr Emberson says it is likely that ozone uptake by vegetation is once again curtailed. The extent of the problem, however, will depend on how dry the soil is, since it is the combination of heat and drought that stresses plants the most.Dr Emberson says the study highlights the importance of understanding the frequency with which such heat waves and droughts will occur in the future as well as how ozone uptake by vegetation is affected by droughts, extreme heat, and interaction with other pollutants.”The more we know, the better we will be able to judge how successful our emission reduction efforts have been so far, and whether we need additional efforts — in the UK, across Europe and beyond, since we know that pollutants such as ozone and its precursors can carried around the globe,” she says.The research can also inform public-health responses, Dr Emberson says. …

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No early birds getting the worms: Songbirds risk missing peak food supply

June 3, 2013 — A mismatch between the departure schedules of songbirds and higher spring temperatures at their breeding sites is putting them at risk, according to a new study out of York University.The study, “A Trans-Hemispheric Migratory Songbird Does Not Advance Spring Schedules or Increase Migration Rate in Response to Record-Setting Temperatures at Breeding Sites,” published in the journal PLOS ONE, tracked the spring migration of purple martins over five years from the Amazon basin to two breeding sites in eastern North America. Researchers outfitted the birds with tiny geolocator “backpacks” to record data on their movements and found that the birds’ departure times between years were surprisingly consistent, despite variation in temperature at their final destination.”We found that purple martins migrating between the Amazon Basin and North America did not adjust their migration timing even during the hottest spring on record in 2012,” says study author Kevin Fraser, a Postdoctoral Fellow in York’s Department of Biology, Faculty of Science. “This means that they arrived ‘late’ for the advanced spring, and likely missed out on peak food they need to be productive breeders.”Aerial insectivores, like purple martins and other swallows, are experiencing strong population declines, particularly species migrating longer distances and populations breeding further north. Scientists have shown in a European species that declines may be due to an inability to advance arrival schedules to match a warming climate. This study provides the first direct evidence of a discrepancy between higher spring temperatures at breeding sites and departure schedules of individual songbirds.”Our results suggest that long-distance migrants may receive limited or conflicting environmental cues about conditions at the breeding grounds while still at overwintering sites or along migration routes,” says Fraser. “Once en route, the birds received no temperature cues of the warm spring until they reached the US Gulf coast, at which point it was likely too late to get to breeding sites earlier.” Fraser says such mistiming is an active area of new research, and with climate change may be an important contributing factor to migratory songbird declines.”Some migratory songbirds may not have the flexibility they need to respond quickly to earlier springs and more variable weather with climate change, which could contribute to the strong population declines we see in many species. Identifying which species or populations may be at greatest risk will be very important for guiding effective conservation action.”He says the study suggests that migration timing and rate in purple martin is not highly sensitive to short-term variation in temperature and rainfall, and that multiple years of increasing spring temperatures may be required to shift the birds to an earlier breeding arrival time through natural selection for earlier departure from tropical overwintering sites.

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Hospital-based exercise programs benefit people with osteoarthritis, study finds

Nov. 11, 2012 — A low-cost exercise program run by Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City has significantly improved pain, function and quality of life in participants with osteoarthritis, according to new research.

The study adds to the growing evidence that exercise is beneficial for osteoarthritis and shows that a hospital-based program can work. The study will be reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ACR/ARHP), to be held Nov. 9-14, in Washington D.C.

The new study showed that the weekly exercise programs significantly improved enjoyment of life and balance, and decreased pain and the severity and frequency of falls. “When participants were asked to report their level of pain severity, there were statistically significant reductions in pain from pre- to post-test. Pain is a huge factor in quality of life,” said Sandra Goldsmith, director of the Public and Patient Education Department at Hospital for Special Surgery. “If we can offer classes that help to reduce pain, that is a good thing.”

Roughly ten years ago, HSS launched its Osteoarthritis Wellness Initiative, which has grown to encompass both an educational component, including lectures and workshops, as well as exercise classes. In the study to be presented at the recent ACR/ARHP meeting, Special Surgery researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the exercise programs on 200 participants.

The classes, which met weekly throughout the year, included Tai Chi, yoga, mat and chair pilates, yoga-lates and dance fitness. Instructors who could tailor exercises for those with osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal issues supervised the exercise programs. The researchers analyzed results from surveys that were administered before and after the exercise programs. The surveys included measures of self-reported pain, balance, falls and level of physical activity. An 11-point numeric pain intensity scale was used to quantify intensity of muscle or joint pain. The 10-point Brief Pain Inventory was used to measure pain interference on aspects of quality of life, including general activity, mood, walking ability, sleep, normal work (both outside the home and housework), and enjoyment of life.

In the sample of 200 participants, roughly 53% indicated that they experienced pain relief as a result of participating in the exercise programs. In fact, when researchers analyzed the subset of 66 participants who completed both pre and post surveys, a larger proportion, 62%, indicated they experienced pain relief after participating in the exercise programs. The level of pain intensity that participants experienced also significantly dropped from 4.5 to 2.7 in this group, where 0 was no pain and 10 was the worst pain imaginable. When researchers compared participants’ estimation of how much pain interfered with various aspects of an individual’s life, they identified a 54% improvement in general activity, mood, walking ability, sleep, normal work, and enjoyment of life.

“We asked participants to rate their balance, and we found a statistically significant increase in those who rated their balance as excellent, very good or good, from pre- to post-intervention, ” said Dana Friedman, MPH, outcomes manager in the HSS Public and Patient Education Department. Fewer respondents reported falling from pre- to post-test (14.5% vs. 13.1%), as well as sustaining injuries that required hospitalization (12.1% vs. 10.6%).

Linda Russell, M.D., a rheumatologist at HSS who is chair of the Public and Patient Education Advisory Committee, points out that the classes are low cost for patients and the fees cover the majority of costs associated with offering these types of programs, including salaries for the instructors. “We like to get all of our patients involved in exercise, and if we can help with a low-cost alternative to exercising in New York City, because gyms are expensive, then it is wonderful,” said Dr. Russell. “Patients benefit from supervised exercise programs with regard to their overall sense of well-being and pain due to their arthritis. We encourage other institutions to launch these types of program.”

“We’d like to be a role model for other hospitals, showing them that offering this type of program can help their patients reduce pain and improve quality of life,” said Ms. Goldsmith. “We are willing to discuss the details about how to start these programs.”

All exercise programs were run through the HSS Public and Patient Education Department, which includes the Greenberg Academy for Successful Aging, a collaborative program between the HSS Public and Patient Education Department and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Irving Sherwood Wright Center for the Aging.

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 million U.S. adults, 22% of the population, suffered from osteoarthritis in 2009, compared with 46 million in 2003-2005. Arthritis affected the daily activities of 21 million adults in 2009. Body mass index influences the prevalence of arthritis; 29.6% of obese adults have arthritis.

Other Hospital for Special Surgery authors involved in the study include Linda Roberts, LCSW, Dana Sperber and Laura Robbins, DSW.

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