Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything. Albert Einstein

AGRICULTURE

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The world’s soils are rapidly degrading. More and more farmers are trying to reinvigorate them by increasing soil organic matter. Techniques such as planting cover crops, adopting no-till practices, and adding biochar increase organic matter, reduce erosion, enhance soil’s water-holding capacity, and help keep nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from washing away. They also increase the amount of carbon dioxide that plants strip from the atmosphere, which gets locked into soil as stable organic compounds. Food companies and governments are hoping to get more farmers to adopt these practices to make agriculture more resilient to droughts and extreme weather associated with human-caused climate change

Source: Regenerating degraded dirt | March 7, 2016 Issue – Vol. 94 Issue 10 | Chemical & Engineering News

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Brazil agrochemical sales fell 21.56% in 2015,The National Union of the Crop Protection Products Industries (Sindiveg) announced the sales of US$

Source: Brazil agrochemical sales fell 21.56% in 2015-Agricultural news-Agropages.com

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Argentina agchem sales down 17% in 2015,Total sales of agrochemicals in Argentina fell 17% in 2015 to US$ 2.4 billion in comparison with the

Source: Argentina agchem sales down 17% in 2015-Agricultural news-Agropages.com

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Look at that bamboo out there.” Dale Alberda points out the window of NBBJ, the architecture firm where he serves as design principal. One story

Source: Using Nature as Inspiration, Architects and Designers Are Building Seattle’s Biofuture

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Reprogramming a cell’s electricity could provide an alternative to standard toxic cancer drugs and their unpleasant side effects

Source: Cancer reversed in frogs by hacking cells’ electricity with light | New Scientist

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Monsanto announced Wednesday that sales in the company’s agricultural productivity segment, which includes its probable carcinogen Roundup herbicide, fell

Source: Monsanto Cuts 16% of Work Force as Sales in Roundup Herbicide Fall 34% – Sustainable Pulse

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A controversial study has suggested that the neurodegenerative disease might be transferred from one person to another. Now scientists are racing to find out whether that is true

Source: The Red Hot Debate about Transmissible Alzheimer’s – Scientific American

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The nanoscopic motors that power the movements of bacteria have been imaged in high resolution for the first time, revealing the secrets of how different species of bacterial life aren’t all created equally when it comes to swimming ability.

While scientists knew that certain bacteria were superior to others in terms of their propulsion mechanisms, until now it wasn’t clear what gave some species their advantage. But by getting up closer than ever to the lifeforms, researchers in the UK have been able to analyse the different kinds of motors that spin their flagella – the slender protein tails that propel many kinds of bacteria

This is our closest look ever at the biological motors that power bacteria

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Autism is one of medicine’s most perplexing mysteries, but Elaine Hsiao’s study suggests a treatment – a probiotic.

Stress can send your stomach into a painful tailspin, causing cramps, spasms and grumbling. But trouble in the gut can also affect the brain.

This two-way relationship may be an unlikely key to solving one of medicine’s most pressing — and perplexing — mysteries: autism. Nearly 60 years after the disorder was first identified, the number of cases has surged, and the United Nations estimates that up to 70 million people worldwide fall on the autism spectrum. Yet there is no known cause or cure.

The gut bacteria in individuals with autism aren’t just different… they may actually contribute to the disorder.

But scientists have found promising clues in the gut. Research has revealed striking differences in the trillions of bacteria — a.k.a., the microbiome — in the intestines of children with and without autism. But the gut bacteria in individuals with autism aren’t just different. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have shown for the first time that they may actually contribute to the disorder. They reported in the journal Cell in December 2013 that an experimental probiotic therapy alleviated autism-like behaviors in mice and are already planning a clinical trial.

Today autism is treated primarily through behavioral therapy. But the new study suggests that treatment may one day come in the form of a probiotic — live, beneficial bacteria like those found in yogurt. “If you block the gastrointestinal problem, you can treat the behavioral symptoms,” Paul Patterson, a professor of biology at Caltech who co-authored the study told SFARI.org. University of Colorado Boulder professor Rob Knight hailed the finding as “groundbreaking” in a commentary in Cell.

Autism is a complex spectrum of disorders that share three classic features — impaired communication, poor social engagement and repetitive behaviors. On one end of the spectrum are people who are socially awkward but, in many cases, incredibly sharp. At the other extreme are individuals with severe mental disabilities and behavioral problems.

Treatment for autism may one day come in the form of a probiotic — live, ’friendly’ bacteria like those found in yogurt.

Among the most common health complaints from children with autism? Gastrointestinal problems. Although estimates vary widely, some studies have concluded that up to 90 percent of children with autism suffer from tummy troubles. According to the CDC, they’re more than 3.5 times more likely to experience chronic diarrhea and constipation than their normally developing peers.

Following these hints, Arizona State University researchers analyzed the gut bacteria in fecal samples obtained from children with and without autism. They found thatparticipants with autism had many fewer types of bacteria, probably making the gut more susceptible to attack from disease-causing pathogens. Other studies have also found striking differences in the types and abundance of gut bacteria in patients with and without autism.

Elaine Hsiao Ted Talk

Elaine Hsiao Ted Talk

But is the gut microbiome in individuals with autism responsible for the disorder? To find out, Caltech postdoctoral researcher Elaine Hsiao engineered mice based on earlier studies showing that women who get the flu during pregnancydouble their risk of giving birth to a child with autism. In the mouse model, pregnant females injected with a viral mimic gave birth to pups with autism-like symptoms, such as anxiety and aloofness.

The mouse pups went on to develop so-called “leaky gut,” in which molecules produced by the gut bacteria flow into the blood and possibly to the brain — a condition also seen in children with autism.

Hsiao then laced the animals’ food with B. fragilis, a priobiotic that’s been shown to treat GI problems in mice — and the results were jaw-dropping.

Five weeks later, the researchers saw that the leaky gut in “autistic” mice had sealed up, and the levels of 4EPS in their blood had steeply declined. They looked more like healthy mice – from the inside out. Not only did their gut microbiomes come to more closely resemble those of healthy mice, but they were also less anxious and no longer engaged in repetitive behaviors, like repetitive digging. They were more communicative, too.

Five weeks after treatment with B. fragilis, gut bacteria more closely resembled that of healthy mice — and so did behavior.

But the treated mice remained aloof when a new mouse was placed in their cage. “This is a real limitation in the conclusions from this study as, in many ways, social interaction deficits are at the core … of autism,” Ted Abel, a professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, told SFARI.org. B. fragilis would probably need to be supplemented with other therapies that address social impairments.

What’s more, a probiotic may only help the subset of patients with autism who experience GI problems, Hsiao said. And only a clinical trial will reveal whether the results also apply to humans.

Still, autism researchers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of gut bacteria, said John Cryan, a professor of anatomy and neuroscience at University College Cork. In 2011, his group reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that probiotic-fed mice were less anxious and produced fewer stress hormones.“You have this kilo of microbes in your gut that’s as important as the kilo of nerve cells in your brain,” he said. “We need to do much more studies on autistic biota.”

For people with autism and their families, however, even a supplemental therapy for a subset of sufferers is a huge step forward. “It’s really impactful, this notion that by changing the bacteria, you could ameliorate what’s often considered an intractable disorder,” Hsiao said. “It’s a really crazy notion and a big advance.”

* Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article did not adequately credit its source. The story contains some reporting from SFARI.org.

Source: Autism’s Gut-Brain Connection | Fast Forward | OZY

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“We can’t keep ignoring the evidence.”

FIONA MACDONALD
11 MAR 2016Twitter Icon

An international group of 31 Alzheimer’s researchers has published an editorial urging the science world to change its focus when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. The message is clear – after a decade of failed attempts to treat and prevent the disease, it’s time to reassess the evidence that Alzheimer’s could be spread by microbes.

The editorial specifically implicates the herpes virus – the kind that causes cold sores – and two types of bacteria, all of which have already been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

This isn’t the first time scientists have suspected that viruses or bacteria could play a role in causing Alzheimer’s – previous studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s tend to be more likely to be infected with certain microbes,including types of fungus, than the rest of the population.

But attempts to nail down those links have failed, so right now, the leading hypothesis is that Alzheimer’s is caused by the build-up of sticky amyloid plaques and mis-folded tau proteins in the brain, which break down communication between neurons and lead to memory loss, cognitive decline, and eventually death.

Now the editorial claims it’s time to consider the idea that certain viruses or bacteria are triggering this plaque build-up in the first place, and investigate whether antimicrobial drugs could help stop it. They say that the first microbes we should investigate are the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1), the chlamydia bacteria, and a type of spiral-shaped bacteria called spirochaetes. 

“We are saying there is incontrovertible evidence that Alzheimer’s Disease has a dormant microbial component,” said Douglas Kell, a chemist from the University of Manchester in the UK, who was one of the editorial’s authors. “We can’t keep ignoring all of the evidence.”

According to the editorial, there have been around 100 papers published on the link between HSV1 and Alzheimer’s alone.

If it’s confirmed that microbes do play a role in causing Alzheimer’s, it could help explain the growing body of evidence that suggests the disease can be spread via surgery and blood transfusion.

It would also fit in with the recent understanding that other diseases, such asstomach ulcers and types of cancer, can be triggered by microbial infection.

So how could viruses and bacteria trigger Alzheimer’s disease? Well, we still don’t really know, which is one of the reasons research has stalled in this area, but the herpes virus is already known to damage the nervous system, and microbial infections are known to inflammation around the body, which is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Still, many researchers and funding bodies consider the link between viruses and bacteria and Alzheimer’s to be controversial or unfounded, and have chosen to look into other causes of the disease instead.

“This is a minority view,” neuroscientist John Hardy from University College London told The Telegraph. “We need always to keep an open mind but this editorial does not reflect what most researchers think about Alzheimer disease.”

That’s fair enough, but so far, investigation into more accepted hypotheses has led to 400 unsuccessful clinical trials over the past 10 year, and no solutions, and the authors of the editorial believe enough is enough.

“We write to express our concern that one particular aspect of the disease has been neglected, even though treatment based on it might slow or arrest Alzheimer’s disease progression,” they write in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. “We propose that further research on the role of infectious agents in Alzheimer’s disease causation, including prospective trials of antimicrobial therapy, is now justified.”

Of course, the issue is not as clear-cut as the editorial makes it out to be – if it was, we’d already know how to fix the disease. And most importantly, experts are urging people not to freak out about the implication that Alzheimer’s could be ‘caught’.

“While these observations are interesting and warrant further research, there is currently insufficient evidence to tell us that microbes are responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease in the vast majority of cases,” said James Pickett, head of research at the UK Alzheimer’s Society. “We would like to reassure people that there remains no convincing evidence that Alzheimer’s disease is contagious or can be passed from person to person like a virus.”

But for such a rapidly growing global issue, it’s definitely a hypothesis worth following up, because it’s only by narrowing down what doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s that we’ll get closer to understanding how it occurs.

“We welcome research that explores all possible avenues and have committed £100 million over the next decade to more fully understand the causes of dementia and to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the condition,”said Pickett.

 

Source: Scientists identify a virus and two bacteria that could be causing Alzheimer’s – ScienceAlert

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Watching the birth of new neurons has revealed their role in distinguishing between good and bad memories – a discovery that could aid treatment for depression

There they are! Newborn neurons vital for memory have been viewed in a live brain for the first time.

The work shows that new neurons in the adult brain are vital for learning the difference between similar memories, in mice at least. The discovery could aid treatments for depression, anxiety and stress disorders.

For a long time, it was thought that we are born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have. Now we know that certain regions of the brain continue to make new neurons throughout life. Slices of brain tissue show that most of these are created in the hippocampus – a seahorse-shaped structure known to be crucial for learning and memory.

Yet, until now, we had never seen these neurons in action in a live animal. Attila Losonczy at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and his colleagues combined several techniques to achieve the feat. They first implanted a device that included a miniature microscope into the brains of live mice. They also modified the mice so that newly made neurons would glow.

“This is impressive because it requires pulling off several delicate manoeuvres simultaneously,” says Michael Drew, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study. “Putting these techniques together is not easy, which explains why no one has imaged adult-born neurons in live animals until now.”

Nice or nasty?

The team were able to watch the activity of the cells while performing experiments on the mice to explore their function. In one, the mice ran on a treadmill while the team tweaked the surrounding sights, smells and sounds. For instance, the mice might hear low tones, smell a banana scent and see a blue light. Other times they would smell a lemon scent and see a blinking light. The team paired a small electric shock with some of the cues, so that the mice learned to associate these cues with an unpleasant experience.

The researchers then deactivated the new neurons using optogenetics, which switches off specific cells using light. Once they had done this, the mice were unable to tell the difference between the scary and safe cues, and ended up being fearful of them all. “They couldn’t tell apart these similar, but different, contexts,” says Losonczy.

“The finding suggests that newborn cells do something important and special in memory processing, that allows animals to tell apart and separate memories,” says Losonczy.

What’s that noise?

The inability to discriminate between two similar but distinct events – such as a gunshot versus a car backfiring – is often seen in panic and anxiety disorders, says co-author René Hen, also at Columbia University. This suggests new neurons, or lack of them, plays a role in such conditions.

The results might also have implications for other disorders. For example, the birth of new neurons seems to beimpaired in depression and schizophrenia. Since most antidepressants stimulate the production of new hippocampus neurons, these experiments may be very relevant to the treatment of depression, says Drew. “This paper gives us some tantalising observations and sets the stage for many more experiments.”

Journal reference: <i>Neuron</i>, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.02.019

Source: Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time | New Scientist

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Stem cells and other components of fat can be coerced to grow into bone, cartilage, muscle or to repair the heart.

Most people would be happy to get rid of excess body fat. Even better: Trade the spare tire for something useful — say, better-functioning knees or hips, or a fix for an ailing heart or a broken bone.

The idea is not far-fetched, some scientists say. Researchers worldwide are repurposing discarded fat to repair body parts damaged by injury, disease or age. Recent studies in lab animals and humans show that the much-maligned material can be a source of cells useful for treating a wide range of ills.

At the University of Pittsburgh, bioengineer Rocky Tuan and colleagues extract buckets full of yellow fat from volunteers’ bellies and thighs and turn the liposuctioned material into tissue that resembles shock-absorbing cartilage. If the cartilage works as well in people as it has in animals, Tuan’s approach might someday offer a kind of self-repair for osteoarthritis, the painful degeneration of cartilage in the joints. He’s also using fat cells to grow replacement parts for the tendons and ligaments that support the joints.

Foremost among fat’s virtues is its richness of stem cells, which have the ability to divide and grow into a wide variety of tissue types. Fat stem cells — also known as adipose-derived stem cells — can be coerced to grow into bone, cartilage, muscle tissue or, of course, more fat. READ MORE

Source: Cells from fat mend bone, cartilage, muscle and even the heart | Science News

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