Four in 10 infants lack strong parental attachments

In a study of 14,000 U.S. children, 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds — what psychologists call “secure attachment” — with their parents that are crucial to success later in life, according to a new report. The researchers found that these children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems.In a report published by Sutton Trust, a London-based institute that has published more than 140 research papers on education and social mobility, researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bristol found that infants under the age of three who do not form strong bonds with their mothers or fathers are more likely to be aggressive, defiant and hyperactive as adults. These bonds, or secure attachments, are formed through early parental care, such as picking up a child when he or she cries or holding and reassuring a child.”When parents tune in to and respond to their children’s needs and are a dependable source of comfort, those children learn how to manage their own feeling and behaviors,” said Sophie Moullin, a joint doctoral candidate studying at Princeton’s Department of Sociology and the Office of Population Research, which is based at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “These secure attachments to their mothers and fathers provide these children with a base from which they can thrive.”Written by Moullin, Jane Waldfogel from Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science and Elizabeth Washbrook from the University of Bristol, the report uses data collected by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001. The researchers also reviewed more than 100 academic studies.Their analysis shows that about 60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby’s needs. Such actions support children’s social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write. These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school.The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school. …

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Coal plant closure in China led to improvements in children’s health

Decreased exposure to air pollution in utero is linked with improved childhood developmental scores and higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key protein for brain development, according to a study looking at the closure of a coal-burning power plant in China led by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.The study is the first to assess BDNF and cognitive development with respect to prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a component of air pollution commonly emitted from coal burning. Results appear online in the journal PLOS ONE.The 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China provided the opportunity to investigate the benefits to development and the impacts on BDNF associated with decreased levels of exposure to PAH. This study has linked decreases in air pollution with decreased levels of PAH-DNA adducts in cord blood, a biological marker of exposure, and reported an association between PAH exposure and adverse developmental outcomes in children born before the plant closure. Currently, coal-fired power plants produce more than 70% of China’s electricity.Deliang Tang, MD, DrPH, and his colleagues followed two groups of mother-child pairs from pregnancy into early childhood. One of the groups was made up of mothers pregnant while the coal power plant was still open and the other after it closed. Developmental delay was determined using a standardized test, the Gesell Developmental Schedule (GDS), which was adapted for the Chinese population. The GDS assesses children in four areas: motor skills, learned behaviors, language, and social adaptation.The researchers found that, as hypothesized, decreased PAH exposure resulting from the power plant closure was associated with both increased BDNF levels and increased developmental scores. PAH-DNA adducts were significantly lower in the babies born after the coal power plant shutdown as compared to those born before the closure, indicating a meaningful exposure reduction. Moreover, the researchers found that the mean level of BDNF was higher among children born after the closure of the power plant. The impacts of PAH exposure and BDNF on developmental scores was also analyzed considering all the children, including both the pre- and post-closure groups. …

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Higher exposure to take-out food could double the odds of being obese

People exposed to takeaway food outlets around their home, at work and on their way to work are more likely to consume more of these foods, as well as being more likely to be obese, suggest a paper published on bmj.com today.During the past decade in the UK, consumption of food away from home has risen by 29% while the number of takeaways has increased dramatically. This, the researchers say, could be contributing to rising levels of overweight and obesity.Despite increasing policy focus, identifying the association between exposures to unhealthy neighborhood food outlets, diet and body weight has proved challenging.Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked to examine the extent to which exposure to takeaway food outlets in home and non-home environments was associated with eating takeaway foods, BMI and likelihood of being overweight or obese.They used data from the Fenland Study — a population based cohort study of adults aged 29-62 in 2011, in Cambridgeshire, UK, conducted by the MRC Epidemiology Unit. Data on 10,452 participants were available, with 5,442 participants eligible for their study. Only adults working outside the home were included.In addition to food outlets within home and work ‘neighborhoods’, the study also accounted for takeaways around commuting routes between home and work. Commuting routes were modeled according to mode of travel using the shortest distance along the street network between home and work addresses.Analyses allowed for a wide range of factors known to be associated with risk of obesity: age, sex, total household income, highest educational qualification, car ownership, total energy intake, smoking status and physical activity energy expenditure. Physical activity was objectively assessed in the Fenland Study using combined heart rate sensors and accelerometers wearable devices to measure body movement).Using data from food frequency questionnaires, the researchers estimated grams of daily intake of pizza, burgers, fried food (for example fried chicken) and chips, as a marker of takeaway food consumption.As a second outcome, the researchers looked at average body mass index, which they calculated from measured height and weight, and odds of being overweight and obese, based on World Health Organization definitions.Results showed that individuals were exposed to 48% more takeaway outlets at work than at home. The average exposure combining home and work neighborhoods and commuting routes was 32 outlets.Among domains at home, at work, and along commuting routes, associations between takeaway exposure and diet were strongest in work environments, with evidence of a dose-response relationship. Combining the three domains (work, home and commute) there was evidence of a positive and significant dose-response relationship between takeaway outlet exposure and takeaway food consumption. The most exposed group of people consumed an additional 5.7 grams per day compared with the least exposed group.Associations between BMI and exposure to takeaway food outlets were equally consistent. The group most exposed to takeaway food outlets in all environments combined were estimated to have a BMI 1.21 greater than those least exposed, with evidence of a dose-response effect. …

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Molecular aberration signals cancer: Role of small non-coding RNAs in protein production, cancer cells

Several scientists, including one at Simon Fraser University, have made a discovery that strongly links a little understood molecule, which is similar to DNA, to cancer and cancer survival.EMBO reports, a life sciences journal published by the European Molecular Biology Organization, has just published online the scientists’ findings about small non-coding RNAs.While RNA is known to be key to our cells’ successful creation of proteins, the role of small non-coding RNAs, a newly discovered cousin of the former, has eluded scientific understanding for the most part. Until now, it was only surmised that most of these molecules had nothing to do with protein production.However, scientists at SFU, the University of British Columbia and the B.C. Cancer Agency have discovered that many non-coding RNAs are perturbed in cancerous human cells, including breast and lung, in a specific way. The disturbance, which manifests itself as shorter than normal molecular messaging, also occurs at a specific spot on genes.”These two identifiable characteristics give cancer-causing non-coding RNAs a chemical signature that makes it easy for scientists to identify them in the early stages of many different types of cancer,” says Steven Jones.The SFU molecular biology and biochemistry professor is this study’s senior author, and the associate director and head of bioinformatics at the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre.”These molecules’ existence can also be used to classify cancer patients into subgroups of individuals with different survival outcomes,” adds Jones. “While the precise reason why a tumor would change the behaviour of genes in this way is not known, it is likely that it represents a mechanism by which the cancer can subvert and takeover the normally well controlled activity of our genes.”This study uncovered non-coding RNAs’ cancerous role by using high-throughput sequencing techniques to analyse reams of genetic information on normal and diseased tissue as part of the Cancer Genome Atlas project.The Cancer Genome Atlas is an ambitious project to characterize the genetic material of more than 500 tumors from more than 20 different cancers. The project provides a goldmine of data for bioinformaticians such as Jones.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Simon Fraser University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Chips that listen to bacteria: CMOS technology provides new insights into how biofilms form

In a study published today in Nature Communications, a research team led by Ken Shepard, professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, and Lars Dietrich, assistant professor of biological sciences at Columbia University, has demonstrated that integrated circuit technology, the basis of modern computers and communications devices, can be used for a most unusual application — the study of signaling in bacterial colonies. They have developed a chip based on complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology that enables them to electrochemically image the signaling molecules from these colonies spatially and temporally. In effect, they have developed chips that “listen” to bacteria.”This is an exciting new application for CMOS technology that will provide new insights into how biofilms form,” says Shepard. “Disrupting biofilm formation has important implications in public health in reducing infection rates.”The researchers, who include PhD students Dan Bellin (electrical engineering) and Hassan Sakhtah (biology), say that this is the first time integrated circuits have been used for such an application — imaging small molecules electrochemically in a multicellular structure. While optical microscopy techniques remain paramount for studying biological systems (using photons allows for relatively non-invasive interaction to the biological system being studied), they cannot directly detect critical components of physiology, such as primary metabolism and signaling factors.The team thought there might be a better way to directly detect small molecules through techniques that employ direct transduction to electrons, without using photos as an intermediary. They made an integrated circuit, a chip that, Shepard says, is an ‘active’ glass slide, a slide that not only forms a solid-support for the bacterial colony but also ‘listens’ to the bacteria as they talk to each other.”Cells, Dietrich explains, mediate their physiological activities using secreted molecules. The team looked specifically at phenazines, which are secreted metabolites that control gene expression. Their study found that the bacterial colonies produced a phenazine gradient that, they say, is likely to be of physiological significance and contribute to colony morphogenesis.”This is a big step forward,” Dietrich continues. “We describe using this chip to ‘listen in’ on conversations taking place in biofilms, but we are also proposing to use it to interrupt these conversations and thereby disrupt the biofilm. In addition to the pure science implications of these studies, a potential application of this would be to integrate such chips into medical devices that are common sites of biofilm formation, such as catheters, and then use the chips to limit bacterial colonization.”The next step for the team will be to develop a larger chip that will enable larger colonies to be imaged at higher spatial and temporal resolutions.”This represents a new and exciting way in which solid-state electronics can be used to study biological systems,” Shepard adds. …

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Decriminalizing pot may land more kids in the ER

States that decriminalized marijuana saw dramatic increases in children requiring medical intervention, although the overall number of unintentional marijuana exposures among children remained low. The Annals of Emergency Medicine study of call volume to U.S. poison centers from January 2005 through December 2011 will be published online today.”We believe that high-dose edible products — such as candies, cookies and chocolates — may have played a significant role in the increased rate of reported exposure chiefly because kids can’t distinguish between products that contain marijuana and those that don’t,” said lead study author George Sam Wang, MD, of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, Colo. “These edible products may be attractive to children and tend to contain higher concentrations of the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol.”The call rate to poison centers in states that decriminalized marijuana increased by more than 30 percent per year between 2005 and 2011, while the call rate in non-legal states did not change. More pediatric exposures in decriminalized states than in non-legal states required medical evaluation, had moderate to major clinical effects and required critical care admissions. Neurologic effects were the most common. The most common therapy was administration of intravenous fluids. Aggressive interventions were rare and there were no deaths.As of December 2013, 18 states and the District of Columbia had passed legislation allowing medical marijuana, which includes many edible products. Sales are projected to more than double between 2011 and 2015.”Pediatricians, toxicologists and emergency physicians need to be willing to advocate for the safety of children to lawmakers as this burgeoning industry expands across the U.S.,” said Dr. Wang. …

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Infection control practices not adequately implemented at many U.S. hospital ICUs, study finds

U.S. hospital intensive care units (ICUs) show uneven compliance with infection prevention policies, according to a study in the February issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).In the largest study of its kind, researchers from Columbia University collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to undertake a nationwide survey of 1,534 ICUs at 975 hospitals as part of the larger Prevention of Nosocomial Infections and Cost Effectiveness Refined (P-NICER) study. The survey inquired about the implementation of 16 prescribed infection prevention measures at point-of-care, and clinician adherence to these policies for the prevention of central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI), ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), and catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI). These infections are among the most common infections acquired by patients in ICUs.According to the survey, hospitals have more policies in place to prevent CLABSI and VAP, than CAUTI. The presence of infection control policies to prevent CLABSI ranged from 87 to 97 percent depending on the measure being counted; the presence of policies for VAP ranged from 69 to 91 percent; and policies for CAUTI lagged behind with only 27 to 68 percent of ICUs reporting prevention policies. The use of a checklist for CLABSI insertion practices was reported by the vast majority of hospitals (92 percent), while the use of a ventilator bundle checklist was reported by fewer hospitals (74 percent).”Evidence-based practices related to CAUTI prevention measures have not been well implemented,” state the authors. “These findings are surprising, given that CAUTI is the most frequent healthcare-associated infection. Clearly, more focus on CAUTI is needed, and dissemination and implementation studies to inform how best to improve evidence-based practices should be helpful.”In adhering to policies, many hospital ICUs fell short, according to the survey. Adherence to prevention policies ranged from 37 to 71 percent for CLABSI, 45 to 55 percent for VAP, and 6 to 27 percent for CAUTI.”Establishing policies does not ensure clinician adherence at the bedside,” state the authors. “Previous studies have found that an extremely high rate of clinician adherence to infection prevention policies is needed to lead to a decrease in healthcare-associated infections. …

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Revealing how the brain recognizes speech sounds

UC San Francisco researchers are reporting a detailed account of how speech sounds are identified by the human brain, offering an unprecedented insight into the basis of human language. The finding, they said, may add to our understanding of language disorders, including dyslexia.Scientists have known for some time the location in the brain where speech sounds are interpreted, but little has been discovered about how this process works.Now, in Science Express (January 30th, 2014), the fast-tracked online version of the journal Science, the UCSF team reports that the brain does not respond to the individual sound segments known as phonemes — such as the b sound in “boy” — but is instead exquisitely tuned to detect simpler elements, which are known to linguists as “features.”This organization may give listeners an important advantage in interpreting speech, the researchers said, since the articulation of phonemes varies considerably across speakers, and even in individual speakers over time.The work may add to our understanding of reading disorders, in which printed words are imperfectly mapped onto speech sounds. But because speech and language are a defining human behavior, the findings are significant in their own right, said UCSF neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Edward F. Chang, MD, senior author of the new study.”This is a very intriguing glimpse into speech processing,” said Chang, associate professor of neurological surgery and physiology. “The brain regions where speech is processed in the brain had been identified, but no one has really known how that processing happens.”Although we usually find it effortless to understand other people when they speak, parsing the speech stream is an impressive perceptual feat. Speech is a highly complex and variable acoustic signal, and our ability to instantaneously break that signal down into individual phonemes and then build those segments back up into words, sentences and meaning is a remarkable capability.Because of this complexity, previous studies have analyzed brain responses to just a few natural or synthesized speech sounds, but the new research employed spoken natural sentences containing the complete inventory of phonemes in the English language.To capture the very rapid brain changes involved in processing speech, the UCSF scientists gathered their data from neural recording devices that were placed directly on the surface of the brains of six patients as part of their epilepsy surgery.The patients listened to a collection of 500 unique English sentences spoken by 400 different people while the researchers recorded from a brain area called the superior temporal gyrus (STG; also known as Wernicke’s area), which previous research has shown to be involved in speech perception. The utterances contained multiple instances of every English speech sound.Many researchers have presumed that brain cells in the STG would respond to phonemes. But the researchers found instead that regions of the STG are tuned to respond to even more elemental acoustic features that reference the particular way that speech sounds are generated from the vocal tract. “These regions are spread out over the STG,” said first author Nima Mesgarani, PhD, now an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University, who did the research as a postdoctoral fellow in Chang’s laboratory. “As a result, when we hear someone talk, different areas in the brain ‘light up’ as we hear the stream of different speech elements.””Features,” as linguists use the term, are distinctive acoustic signatures created when speakers move the lips, tongue or vocal cords. …

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Nine steps to save waterways and fisheries identified by researchers

The key to clean water and sustainable fisheries is to follow nine guiding principles of water management, says a team of Canadian biologists.Fish habitats need ecosystems that are rich in food with places to hide from predators and lay eggs, according to the framework published today in the journal Environmental Reviews.Humans have put key freshwater ecosystems at risk because of land development and the loss of the vegetation along rivers and streams, says John Richardson, a professor in the Dept. of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, one of 15 freshwater biologists who created the framework to help protect fish and ecosystems into the future.”Fish are strongly impacted when nutrients, sediments or pollutants are added to their habitat. We cannot protect fish without maintaining a healthy freshwater ecosystem,” says Richardson, who led the policy section on protecting fish habitats. Other policy sections addressed areas such as climate change and biodiversity.Connecting waterways are also critical for healthy ecosystems, says Richardson. “If fish can’t get to breeding or rearing areas because of dams, culverts, water intakes or other changes to their habitats, then the population will not survive,” he says.With more pressure on Canada’s freshwater ecosystems, Richardson and his colleagues wanted to create a framework of evidence-based principles that managers, policy makers and others could easily use in their work. “It’s a made in Canada solution, but the principles could be applied anywhere in the world,” he says.BACKGROUNDERHealthy freshwater ecosystems are shrinking and reports suggest that the animals that depend on them are becoming endangered or extinct at higher rates than marine or terrestrial species, says Richardson. Humans also depend on these ecosystems for basic resources like clean drinking water and food as well as economic activity from the natural resource sector, tourism and more.The components of a successful management plan include:Protect and restore habitats for fisheries Protect biodiversity as it enhances resilience and productivity Identify threats to ecosystem productivity Identify all contributions made by aquatic ecosystems Implement ecosystem based-management of natural resources while acknowledging the impact of humans Adopt a precautionary approach to management as we face uncertainty Embrace adaptive management — environments continue to change so research needs to be ongoing for scientific evidence-based decision making Define metrics that will indicate whether management plans are successful or failing Engage and consult with stakeholders Ensure that decision-makers have the capacity, legislation and authority to implement policies and management plans. These recommendations are based on nine principles of ecology:Acknowledge the physical and chemical limits of an ecosystem Population dynamics are at work and there needs to be a minimum number of fish for the population to survive Habitat quantity and quality are needed for fish productivity Connecting habitats is essential for movement of fish and their resources The success of freshwater species is influenced by the watershed Biodiversity enhances ecosystem resilience and productivity Global climate change affects local populations of fish Human impacts to the habitat affect future generations of fish Evolution is important to species survival Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Signs point to sharp rise in drugged driving fatalities

The prevalence of non-alcohol drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the U.S. has been steadily rising and tripled from 1999 to 2010 for drivers who tested positive for marijuana — the most commonly detected non-alcohol drug — suggesting that drugged driving may be playing an increasing role in fatal motor vehicle crashes.To assess these trends researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examined toxicological testing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System and found that of 23,591 drivers who were killed within one hour of a crash, 39.7% tested positive for alcohol and 24.8% for other drugs. While positive results for alcohol remained stable, the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs rose significantly from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010; for marijuana, rates rose from 4.2% to 12.2%. Findings are online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.This study is based on data from six U.S. states that routinely performed toxicological testing on drivers involved in fatal car crashes — California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.The results showed that alcohol involvement was more prevalent in men (43.6%) than in women (26.1%), but trends were stable for both sexes. In contrast, the substantial increase in the prevalence of marijuana was reported for all age groups and both sexes.”Although earlier research showed that drug use is associated with impaired driving performance and increased crash risk, trends in narcotic involvement in driver fatalities have been understudied,” said Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, professor of Epidemiology and Anesthesiology and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. “Given the increasing availability of marijuana and the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic, understanding the role of controlled substances in motor vehicle crashes is of significant public health importance.”Joanne Brady, a PhD candidate in epidemiology and the lead author of the study, notes that research from 2007 to 2013 shows an increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana in roadside surveys, as well as drivers involved in fatal crashes in in California and increased use by patients treated in Colorado healthcare settings. “The marked increase in its prevalence as reported in the present study is likely germane to the growing decriminalization of marijuana,” noted Ms. Brady. Over the last 17 years, 20 states and Washington, D.C. …

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Wari, predecessors of the Inca, used restraint to reshape human landscape

Oct. 16, 2013 — The Wari, a complex civilization that preceded the Inca empire in pre-Columbia America, didn’t rule solely by pillage, plunder and iron-fisted bureaucracy, a Dartmouth study finds. Instead, they started out by creating loosely administered colonies to expand trade, provide land for settlers and tap natural resources across much of the central Andes.Share This:The results, which appear in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, shed new light on how early states evolved into empires in the region that became the Inca imperial heartland.The study is the first large-scale look at the settlement patterns and power of the Wari civilization, which flourished from about AD 600-1000 in the Andean highlands, well before the Inca empire’s 15th century rise. Relatively little is known about the Wari — there are no historical documents and archaeologists are still debating their power and statecraft. Many scholars think the Wari established strong centralized control — economic, political, cultural and military — like their Inca successors to govern the majority of the far-flung populations living across the central Andes. But the Dartmouth study suggests that while the Wari had significant administrative power, they did not successfully transition most colonies into directly ruled provinces.”The identification of limited Wari state power encourages a focus on colonization practices rather than an interpretation of strong provincial rule,” says Professor Alan Covey, the study’s lead author. “A ‘colonization first’ interpretation of early Wari expansion encourages the reconsideration of motivations for expansion, shifting from military conquest and economic exploitation of subject populations to issues such as demographic relief and strategic expansion of trade routes or natural resource access.”The results are based on a systematic inventory of archaeological surveys covering nearly 1,000 square miles and GIS analysis of more than 3,000 archaeological sites in and around Peru’s Cusco Valley. The data indicate Wari power did not emanate continuously outward from Pikillacta, a key administrative center whose construction required a huge investment. Instead, the locations of Wari ceramics indicate a more uneven, indirect and limited influence even at the height of their power than traditional interpretations from excavations at Wari sites.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Dartmouth College, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. …

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U. S. regions exhibit distinct personalities, research reveals

Oct. 17, 2013 — Americans with similar temperaments are so likely to live in the same areas that a map of the country can be divided into regions with distinct personalities, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.People in the north-central Great Plains and the South tend to be conventional and friendly, those in the Western and Eastern seaboards lean toward being mostly relaxed and creative, while New Englanders and Mid-Atlantic residents are prone to being more temperamental and uninhibited, according to a study published online by APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.”This analysis challenges the standard methods of dividing up the country on the basis of economic factors, voting patterns, cultural stereotypes or geography that appear to have become ingrained in the way people think about the United States,” said lead author Peter J. Rentfrow, PhD, of the University of Cambridge. “At the same time, it reinforces some of the traditional beliefs that some areas of the country are friendlier than others, while some are more creative.”The researchers analyzed the personality traits of more than 1.5 million people. Through various online forums/media (e.g., Facebook and survey panels), participants answered questions about their psychological traits and demographics, including their state of residence. The researchers identified three psychological profiles based on five broad dimensions of personality — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism — also known as the “Big Five” personality traits. When the researchers overlaid the findings on a national map, they found certain psychological profiles were predominant in three distinct geographic areas. The data were collected over 12 years in five samples with participants from the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. Overall, the samples were nationally representative in terms of gender and ethnicity, with the exception of a larger proportion of young people.”These national clusters of personalities also relate to a region’s politics, economy, social attitudes and health,” Rentfrow said. The study found that people in the friendly and conventional regions are typically less affluent, less educated, more politically conservative, more likely to be Protestant and less healthy compared to people in the other regions. …

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New soil testing kit for third world countries

Oct. 16, 2013 — Researchers at the University of Maryland and Columbia University have developed a new soil testing kit designed to help farmers in third world countries. On-the-spot soil testing could have major impact in improving crop yields due to poor soils. The kit contains battery-operated instruments and safe materials for agricultural extension agents to handle in the field. They can test for the availability of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and potassium, as well as active organic matter, and certain soil physical limitations. The raw results of the tests are sent by cell phone to a central website. Then, calculations are made and recommendations are delivered back to the extension agent.The kit, called SoilDoc, is the culmination of several years of work in Africa by Ray Weil, PhD. Weil, a soil scientist, spent his 2009 sabbatical working with the Millennium Villages Project in the some of the poorest areas of Africa. He started carrying common soil testing items in his backpack, but found he needed more. Back in the US, he discovered items used for testing home aquariums that would also work for soil tests. …

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Immune system discovery could lead to vaccine to prevent mono, some cancers

Oct. 12, 2013 — Development of a vaccine against Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has taken a step forward with the Canadian discovery of how EBV infection evades detection by the immune system.EBV causes infectious mononucleosis and cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which is the most common cancer in China, as well as opportunistic cancers in people with weakened immune systems. A member of the herpes virus family that remains in the body for life, the virus infects epithelial cells in the throat and immune cells called B cells.The researchers discovered that the virus triggers molecular events that turn off key proteins, making infected cells invisible to the natural killer T (NKT) immune cells that seek and destroy EBV-infected cells.”If you can force these invisible proteins to be expressed, then you can render infected cells visible to NKT cells, and defeat the virus. This could be key to making a vaccine that would provide immunity from ever being infected with EBV,” says Dr. Rusung Tan, the study’s principal investigator. Dr. Tan is a scientist and director of the Immunity in Health & Disease research group at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital, and a professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of British Columbia.The findings were published this week in the print edition of the scientific journal Blood.For this study, the researchers looked at cells from infected tonsils that had been removed from patients at BC Children’s Hospital by Dr. Frederick Kozak. The researchers infected the tonsillar B cells with EBV, and then combined some of these cells with NKT cells. They found that more NKT cells led to fewer EBV-infected cells, while an absence of NKT cells was associated with an increase in EBV-infected cells.

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Pacific humpback whale abundance higher in British Columbia

Sep. 11, 2013 — Humpback whale populations are on the rise in the coastal fjords of British Columbia, doubling in size from 2004 to 2011, according to results published September 18 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Erin Ashe from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews and colleagues from other institutions.Share This:Researchers estimated abundance of Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) using photo-identification surveillance of identifiable adults. They found that the number of humpback whales in the region increased each year, and doubled from 2004 to 2011, resulting in a total of 137 whales in 2011. The survey was conducted year-round, but abundance was estimated only during the summer months of July to September, when the migrating whale population is largest.The survey focused on summer feeding regions in the coastal fjords that serve as a pit stop for whales to refuel between migrations. Migrating whales can travel as far as Hawaii or Japan and go several months without feeding. Whatever the whales are doing seems to be working.The authors estimated that survivorship, the average probability of an adult whale surviving from one year to the next is among the highest reported anywhere for this species. During this critical refueling stage in these waters, the whales are more vulnerable to environmental stressors, such as those potentially created by increasing tourism and industrial development in the region.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. …

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Following a Mediterranean diet not associated with delay to clinical onset of Huntington disease

Sep. 2, 2013 — Adhering to a Mediterranean-type diet (MedDi) does not appear associated with the time to clinical onset of Huntington disease (phenoconversion), according to a study by Karen Marder, M.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, N.Y., and colleagues.Share This:The Mediterranean diet, a diet high in plant foods (e.g. fruits, nuts, legumes, and cereals) and fish, with olive oil as the primary source of monounsaturated fat (MUSF) and low to moderate intake of wine, as well as low intake of red meat, poultry, and dairy products, is known to be beneficial for health owing to its protective effects in many chronic diseases, according to the study background.A prospective cohort study of 41 Huntington study group sites in the United States and Canada involving 1,001 participants enrolled in the Prospective Huntington at Risk Observational Study (PHAROS) between July 1999 and January 2004 who were followed up every nine months until 2010, completed a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire administered 33 months after baseline. A total of 211 participants ages 26 to 57 years had an expanded CAG repeat length (≥37), a certain genetic characteristic).The highest body mass index was associated with the lowest adherence to MedDi. Thirty-one participants phenoconverted. In a model adjusted for age, CAG repeat length, and caloric intake, MeDi was not associated with phenoconversion. When individual components of MeDi were analyzed, higher dairy consumption (hazard ratio, 2.36) and higher caloric intake were associated with risk of phenoconversion, according to the study results.”Our results suggest that studies of diet and energy expenditure in premanifest HD may provide data for both nonpharmacological interventions and pharmacological interventions to modify specific components of diet that may delay the onset of HD,” the study concludes.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by American Medical Association (AMA). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? …

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Poor concentration: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life

Aug. 29, 2013 — Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University. As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes.Published in the journal Science, the study presents a unique perspective regarding the causes of persistent poverty. The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty. A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer “mental resources” to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep.But when their concerns were benign, low-income individuals performed competently, at a similar level to people who were well off, said corresponding author Jiaying Zhao, who conducted the study as a doctoral student in the lab of co-author Eldar Shafir, Princeton’s William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. Zhao and Shafir worked with Anandi Mani, an associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick in Britain, and Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard University economics professor.”These pressures create a salient concern in the mind and draw mental resources to the problem itself. That means we are unable to focus on other things in life that need our attention,” said Zhao, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.”Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success,” she said. “We’re arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function. …

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New findings on how the ear hears could lead to better hearing aids

Aug. 20, 2013 — A healthy ear is much better at detecting and transmitting sound than even the most advanced hearing aid. But now researchers reporting in the August 20 issue of the Biophysical Journal, a Cell Press publication, have uncovered new insights into how the ear — in particular, the cochlea — processes and amplifies sound. The findings could be used for the development of better devices to improve hearing.Share This:Sound-sensing cells within the cochlea — called hair cells due to the presence of cilia on their membrane surfaces — vibrate strongly at different sound frequencies depending on their location. To examine the cochlear electro-mechanics responsible for this process, Dr. Elizabeth Olson and Dr. Wei Dong, both of Columbia University, designed tiny sensors that could simultaneously measure small pressure fluctuations and cell-generated voltages at specific locations within the ears of live gerbils.It was previously shown that the pivoting of cilia on a hair cell mechanically opens ion channels in the cell membrane, allowing the current to flow and generate voltage. This sends a signal to a nerve cell, which relays the specific sound frequency signal to the brain. In addition, energy released by hair cell voltage feeds back to amplify the motion specific to that location’s frequency, thus driving additional movement of the local hair cells.Dr. Dong and Dr. …

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The first animal model for sexual transmission of HIV

Aug. 15, 2013 — Infection by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a debilitating disorder in which progressive weakening of the immune system makes affected individuals more susceptible to potentially life-threatening infections and chronic diseases. Despite advances in the treatment and management of AIDS, there is no cure, and HIV infection remains a major global health problem. According to the WHO, there were an estimated 34 million infected individuals in 2011.Share This:Over the last three decades, a number of animal models have been developed to study aspects of HIV infection, pathogenesis and control. However, the currently available models do not recapitulate the physiological environment of the most common route of HIV transmission worldwide, vaginal intercourse. Now, Mary Jane Potash and colleagues from St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY, have developed an approach for modelling heterosexual transmission of HIV in vivo. Their work was published recently in Disease Models & Mechanisms.The work stems from an earlier collaboration between Potash and David J. Volsky (also from Columbia University); they established a chimeric HIV clone with a genetic modification that allows the virus to propagate in rodents instead of humans. Infection of mice with these viruses has been successfully applied to study aspects of HIV neuropathogenesis and to evaluate antiretroviral drugs and potential HIV vaccines. …

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Soft drinks linked to behavioral problems in young children

Aug. 16, 2013 — Americans buy more soft drinks per capita than people in any other country. These drinks are consumed by individuals of all ages, including very young children. Although soft drink consumption is associated with aggression, depression, and suicidal thoughts in adolescents, the relationship had not been evaluated in younger children. A new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics finds that aggression, attention problems, and withdrawal behavior are all associated with soft drink consumption in young children.Share This:Shakira Suglia, ScD, and colleagues from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, University of Vermont, and Harvard School of Public Health assessed approximately 3,000 5-year-old children enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a prospective birth cohort that follows mother-child pairs from 20 large U.S. cities. Mothers reported their child’s soft drink consumption and completed the Child Behavior Checklist based on their child’s behavior during the previous two months. The researchers found that 43% of the children consumed at least 1 serving of soft drinks per day, and 4% consumed 4 or more.Aggression, withdrawal, and attention problems were associated with soda consumption. Even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, maternal depression, intimate partner violence, and paternal incarceration, any soft drink consumption was associated with increased aggressive behavior. Children who drank 4 or more soft drinks per day were more than twice as likely to destroy things belonging to others, get into fights, and physically attack people. …

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