New Biotechnology Increases Crop Yield by 20%

Scientists from the University of Illinois have boosted crop yields in a revolutionary procedure that genetically enhances photosynthesis. The UN claims that in 2050, humanity will need to produce 70% more food than we do today. The researchers claim this new discovery will help bridge the gap towards feeding a growing population.

As computer models predicted, genetically modified plants are better able to make use of the limited sunlight available when their leaves go into the shade. Image credit: Julie McMahon.
The technique counteracts an unusual inefficiency in plant productivity. When sunlight is intense, plants activate a defense mechanism by turning excess energy into heat, called nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ).
However, once the light dims, this protective process can take up to h… Read more

Platypus Venom Could Hold Key to Successful Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes

The same hormone produced in the gut of the duck-billed platypus ( Ornithorhynchus anatinus ) to regulate blood glucose is also produced in the animal’s venom, a team of scientists led by University of Adelaide researchers has found — and that hormone could be used in new treatments for type 2 diabetes.

This image is a digital reproduction of a painting by John Lewin of a platypus in 1808.
The hormone in question is called GLP — 1 (glucagons-like peptide 1). It is normally secreted in the gut of both humans and animals, stimulating the release of insulin to lower blood glucose.
“In humans GLP — 1 and gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP) are the only known insulin stimulating incretin hormones and are released from intestinal cells after food intake,” the researchers said.
“GLP — 1 potentiates glucose-stim… Read more

Arecoline: Compound Found in Areca Nuts Has Anti-Cancer Potential

A new study published in the journal Molecular Cell reports that arecoline, an active compound found in areca nuts, has anti-cancer properties.

A ripe areca nut. Image credit: Banni Pulikottil / CC BY 2.5.
Areca nuts are seed of the areca palm ( Areca catechu ), which grows in Asia, parts of east Africa as well as the tropical Pacific region.
These nuts are chewed for their stimulant effects in many Asian countries, and evidence links the practice to the development of oral and esophageal cancer.
“Observers of health news have complained that coffee, as a widely cited example, is implicated in causing cancer one week and absolved the next. Arecoline (a nicotinic acid-based alkaloid found in areca nuts) is not another instance of the same trend,” said study senior author Prof. Jing Chen, of Emory Universit… Read more

Scientists Develop Oral Delivery System to Treat Hemophilia

Treatment for hemophilia can now be administered via a biodegradable, pH-responsive hydrogel microcarrier system, a capsule, thanks to a breakthrough by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. They describe their system in the Nov. 30, 2016 issue of the International Journal of Pharmaceutics .

Illustration of the degradable system carrying treatment for hemophilia B. Image credit: University of Texas at Austin.
There are about 400,000 people worldwide living with either hemophilia A or hemophilia B, both caused by a missing protein in their blood.
Hemophilia B is caused by a missing or defective factor IX, a clotting protein.
The bleeding disorder affects people throughout the world, but global accessibility to therapy is limited by cost, the need for trained medical personnel and po… Read more

Long-Term Marijuana Use Blunts Brain’s Reward System, Say Researchers

Regular use of cannabis over many years lowers levels of dopamine, a key chemical in the brain’s reward center, says an international team of researchers led by Imperial College London’s Professor Oliver Howes.

Cannabis use in humans is associated with reduced dopamine in the striatum. PET studies have shown lower striatal dopamine synthesis and release capacity in cannabis users. Lower dopamine synthesis capacity in the dorsal striatum is directly associated with reduced motivation levels, whereas reduced dopamine release in the ventral striatum is directly associated with negative emotion levels and severity of addiction. Image credit: Michael A. P. Bloomfield et al , doi: 10.1038/nature20153.
Cannabis is a widely used recreational drug. Over half of young Americans have used the drug, w… Read more

Only Half of Chromosome is DNA, New Study Reveals

DNA makes up only half of the material inside chromosomes, according to a new study published in the journal Molecular Cell . Up to 47% of their structure is a mysterious sheath that surrounds the genetic material.

Booth et al . develop a microscopy method called 3D-CLEM. Using this approach, they find that a large portion of mitotic chromosomes is not composed of chromatin, challenging classical perceptions of chromosomes. Image credit: Booth et al , doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2016.10.009.
Since their first discovery in 1882, mitotic chromosomes have been a subject of intense study.
Remarkably, despite the significant developments of light and electron microscopy over the intervening years, the detailed organization of chromosomes has remained a mystery.
A research team headed by University of E… Read more

Hen Harrier is Actually Two Different Species

New research confirms that the hen harrier ( Circus cyaneus ), a medium-sized bird of prey found in parts of North America and Eurasia, is two different species of bird that are only distantly related.

The northern harrier ( Circus hudsonius ). Image credit: Simon Richards.
The study, led by Dr. Graham Etherington of the University of California’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and the Earlham Institute, explores the phylogenetic relationship between two currently recognized forms, the Palearctic form C. c. cyaneus (hen harrier), and the Nearctic form C. c. hudsonius (northern harrier), to distinguish their ancestry and evolution.
“Molecular phylogenetics was applied to the hen harriers and the northern harriers to see if genetics could shed some light on whether the accepted morphological nuan… Read more

Yoga is Relatively Safe, Researchers Say

Participating in yoga is relatively safe, but know your limits, say researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) who conducted the first large-scale examination of yoga-related injuries.

According to the study, participants aged 65 years and older have a greater rate of injury from practicing yoga when compared with other age groups. Image credit: Janeb13.
Yoga is an encompassing activity and can refer to an array of physical and mental activities, including stretching, physical postures, breath control, and meditation.
Yoga is touted for its overall health benefits and mental well-being. Participants indicate indirect health benefits through improved physical fitness and reduced stress as well as direct health benefits such as reduced back and neck pain, arthritis, and an… Read more

LITE-1: Researchers Discover New Type of Photoreceptor

Scientists have discovered a new type of photoreceptor protein that is about 50 times more efficient at capturing light than the rhodopsin, a protein that resides in cell membranes in the retina of the human eye.

Caenorhabditis elegans . Image credit: Bob Goldstein / University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The new receptor protein, called LITE — 1, was discovered in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans , a common model organism in biological research.
“This photoreceptor actually comes from a family of taste receptor proteins first discovered in insects,” said Shawn Xu, a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan Medical School and senior author of a paper on the discovery published Nov. 17 in the journal Cell .
“These, however, are no… Read more

Study Says Avoiding the Sun is an Emerging Health Problem

Americans are increasingly at risk of insufficient sun exposure, according to a landmark study published this week in the Journal of Dermato-Endocrinology .

According to Hoel et al , the message of sun avoidance must be changed to acceptance of non-burning sun exposure sufficient to achieve serum 25(OH)D concentration of 30 ng/mL or higher in the sunny season and the general benefits of UV exposure beyond those of vitamin D. Image credit: Biedermann.
Public health authorities in the United States are currently advising that human sun exposure be reduced.
At the same time, NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data show that 32% of Americans suffer from vitamin D insufficiency.
“The message of sun avoidance advocated by our government, and some within the medical community, sh… Read more

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