Monday, July 16, 2012

New Apple Doesn't Go Brown

Genetically Modified Apple Doesn't Go Brown: Once an apple is exposed to the air it instantly begins browning. This applies whether the fruit is sliced, bitten or simply bruised. Now, a new genetically modified apple doesn't turn brown.

Not surprisingly, food growers are up-in-arms over this new genetically modified apple. According to the New York Times American's have been eating genetically modified foods in the 1990s, but the growers don't believe this apple will be beneficial to their market. Though the company producing the apple is positive on their product, the growers are rather sour

That Fresh Look, Genetically Buffed
A small company is trying to bring to market a genetically engineered apple that does not turn brown when sliced or bruised. But it has much of the rest of the apple industry seeing red.

The company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says the nonbrowning apple will prove popular with consumers and food service companies and help increase sales of apples, in part by making sliced apples more attractive to serve or sell.

While Americans have been eating genetically engineered foods since the 1990s, those have been mainly processed foods. The Arctic Apple, as it is being called, could become one of the first genetically engineered versions of a fruit that people directly bite into.

But the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of the product, as do some other industry organizations. They say that, while they do not believe that the genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie.

“We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time,” said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the tree-fruit industry in and around Washington State, which produces about 60 percent of the nation’s apples.

The Agriculture Department is expected on Friday to open a 60-day public comment period on Okanagan’s application for regulatory approval of the genetically modified apple trees. A public comment period just ended in Canada, where the company is also seeking approval.

Neal Carter, the founder and president of the company, which is based in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, said the nonbrowning apples could improve industry sales, much as baby carrots did for carrot sales.

A whole apple is “for many people too big a commitment,” he said. “If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn’t take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice.”

Consumption of fresh apples in the United States has fallen from about 20 pounds a year for each person in the late 1980s to about 16 pounds now, according to the Agriculture Department.

Apple slices are already becoming more popular as a healthful snack, sold in bags in supermarkets and included by McDonald’s in its Happy Meals for children. The slices are often coated with vitamin C and calcium to prevent browning and preserve crispness. But that can affect the taste, Mr. Carter said.

He also said that growers would have fewer apples rejected by supermarkets because of the minor bruising that is common from handling of the fruit.

Arctic Apples, which would first be available in the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning.

The gene does not come from another species. Rather, it contains DNA sequences from four of the apple’s own genes that govern production of polyphenol oxidase. Putting an extra copy of a gene into a plant can activate a self-defense mechanism known as RNA interference that shuts down both the extra copy and the endogenous gene.

Some critics say the lack of browning could conceal problems with an apple that consumers may want to know about.

“Is it a rotten apple that looks fresh?” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a coalition of groups critical of genetically engineered crops. Ms. Sharratt also said the genetic engineering was “designed to turn the apple into an industrialized product” that could be sold in plastic bags instead of as whole fresh fruit.

Mr. Carter said the injury from bruising or slicing was not harmful to consumers. If the apple were truly rotten from a bacterial or fungal infection, it would still change colors.

“The stuff that is really bad and people won’t want to eat will still be bad,” he said.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Science news of Cancer

Preclinical Studies Use Specialized Ultrasound to Detect Presence of Cancer
From the air, the twists and turns of rivers can easily be seen. In the body, however, tracing the twists and turns of blood vessels is difficult, but important. Vessel "bendiness" can indicate the presence and progression of cancer.

This principle led UNC scientists to a new method of using a high-resolution ultrasound to identify early tumors in preclinical studies. The method, based on vessel bendiness or "tortuosity," potentially offers an inexpensive, non-invasive and fast method to detect cancer that could someday help doctors identify cancers when tumors are less than a centimeter in size.

Paul Dayton, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering explains, "The correlation between vessel tortuosity and cancer is well-established. What's new about our finding is that we can visualize these vessels in minutes with a very quick scan, using very inexpensive imaging methods." Dr. Dayton is a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The UNC team used a new high-resolution ultrasound method, called "acoustic angiography," with an intravascular contrast agent that allowed them to acquire images of only the blood vessels. "Unlike current clinical 'grayscale' ultrasound, this method filters out all tissue signals, so we can see small blood vessels clearly." says Dayton.

"Our results showed a definitive difference between vessels within and surrounding tumors versus those associated with normal healthy vasculature. The limitation that we must now address is that our method works only for tumors at a shallow depth into tissue, such as melanomas or thyroid cancer. Our next studies will focus on this imaging-depth issue as well as evaluating the ability of this technology to determine a tumor's response to therapy.

"We know from several clinical and preclinical MRI studies at UNC by Elizabeth Bullitt, MD, and others, and at other institutions that vessels can unbend, or "normalize," in response to effective therapy. We need to see if our inexpensive ultrasound-based method of blood vessel visualization and tortuosity analysis can detect this normalization prior to conventional assessments of tumor response to therapy, such as measurements of tumor size.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Space Worms Live Long and Prosper

A microscopic worm used in experiments on the space station not only seems to enjoy living in a microgravity environment, it also appears to get a lifespan boost.

This intriguing discovery was made by University of Nottingham scientists who have flown experiments carrying thousands of tiny Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) to low-Earth orbit over the years. But why are these little worms so special?

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C. elegans may be microscopic, but they were the first multi-cellular organism to have their genetic structure completely mapped. These little guys possess 20,000 genes that perform similar functions as equivalent genes in humans. Of particular interest are the 2,000 genes that have a role in promoting muscle function. As any long-duration astronaut can attest, one of the biggest challenges facing mankind's future in space is muscle atrophy.

Understanding how C. elegans function in space is therefore of huge scientific value not only for tiny worm enthusiasts, but for the manned exploration -- and colonization -- of space.

In 2011, Discovery News reported on some results to come from the C. elegans experiments. Nathaniel Szewczyk, of the Division of Clinical Physiology at the University of Nottingham, discussed the worms' microgravity reproduction habits and, as it turns out, C. elegans prospered just fine. Over three months, Szewczyk's team were able to observe the space worms flourish over twelve generations.

ANALYSIS: Legacy Space Worms Flying on Shuttle

And now, in results published on July 5 in the online journal Scientific Reports, it appears that C. elegans not only adapted to microgravity conditions, their lifespans also received a boost when compared with their terrestrial counterparts.

"We identified seven genes, which were down-regulated in space and whose inactivation extended lifespan under laboratory conditions," Szewczyk said in a press release. This basically means that seven C. elegans genes usually associated with muscle aging were suppressed when the worms were exposed to a microgravity environment. Also, it appears spaceflight suppresses the accumulation of toxic proteins that normally gets stored inside aging muscle.

But the biological mechanisms behind this anti-aging effect are a bit of a mystery.

"It would appear that these genes are involved in how the worm senses the environment and signals changes in metabolism in order to adapt to the environment," added Szewczyk. "For example, one of the genes we have identified encodes insulin which, because of diabetes, is well known to be associated with metabolic control. In worms, flies, and mice insulin is also associated with modulation of lifespan."

Monday, July 09, 2012

Animals Navigate With Magnetic Cells

1) Specialized cells may explain the mysterious magnetic sense that some animals use to navigate long distances.
2) People might also harbor magnetic cells in our bodies.
3) Understanding how animals sense magnetic fields could lead to new gadgets and health treatments.

Salmon, turtles and many birds migrate up to thousands of miles at a time, presumably by sensing the Earth's magnetic field. Now, scientists have identified cells in the nose of trout that respond to magnetism, offering a biological explanation for how animals orient themselves and find their way, even when it's dark or foggy.

The discovery -- and particularly the new method that enabled it -- opens up avenues for all sorts of futuristic applications, including miniaturized GPS systems or gene therapies that would restore sight, hearing or smell to people who have lost those senses.

The ability to detect magnetic-sensitive cells in the lab could also help answer questions about whether people are at risk from magnetic fields produced by power lines and other equipment.

NEWS: Pigeons Create GPS from Earth's Magnetic Field

"The key point is really the method we established. Some people call it a game-changer," said Michael Winklhofer, a biogeophysicist at the University of Munich. "Previously, we didn't have a tool to collect these cells. Now, we can do some serious cell biology on them."

"There's no doubt that many animals have a magnetic sense, particularly migratory birds and fish," he added. "But the problem is, we still don't know how that works."

Winklhofer and colleagues chose to study the olfactory tissues of trout based on decade-old research, which showed that magnetic fields affected the electrical activity of nerves that carried information from the fishes' noses. Instead of grinding up the tissues for analysis, as older methods tended to do, the researchers gently isolated whole cells from the tissues and put them into petri dishes.

When the team applied rotating magnetic fields to those dishes, about one out of every 10,000 cells spun with the same frequency as the fields, the researchers report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Illuminated by the light of the microscope, structures inside of these cells also shone brilliantly, making them easy to detect.

A closer look revealed crystals attached to inside the cell membranes that contained what appeared to be magnetite, an iron-rich magnetic material. Scientists don't yet know how these structures work, but Winklhofer suspects that they excite membranes inside neurons and trigger nerve impulses that send direction-related information to the brain.

Based on the abundance of magnetic cells in the samples, Winklhofer estimated that each fish had a total of between 10 and 100 of these cells in its nose. As expected, there were no magnetic cells in the animals' muscle tissue. But in work yet to be published, his group detected even more magnetic cells in the trout's lateral line, a sensory organ in fish that detects vibrations.

Because magnetic fields penetrate the entire body, magnetic-sensing cells could be sporadically spread throughout in other body parts, too, which would make sense. If the cells were too close together, they would begin to sense each other's magnetic fields instead of the larger fields around the planet. Like needles in a haystack, though, magnetic cells can be difficult to find, which is what makes the new method so valuable.

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The new technique also makes it possible to look for magnetic cells in animals that don't necessarily use a sense of magnetism but may have retained the cells even as evolution made them obsolete. In a 2008 study, for example, German researchers analyzed Google Earth images and saw that cows and deer tended to stand facing magnetic north or south.

Some recent research suggests that even people might harbor magnetic cells that linger from our ancestral hunter-gatherer days. If so, magnetic fields from power lines could be causing stress inside of our cells, leading to unknown health effects.

Researchers also hope to identify the genes and proteins responsible for producing magnetic-sensing cells, which would go a long way toward explaining how migrating animals accomplish such amazing feats. These discoveries would also pave the way for applications, such as tiny GPS systems or even novel strategies for healing blindness and other sensory problems in people.

"This may sound far out here," said J. David Dickman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "But we're contemplating taking cells that are not normally magnetically sensitive and creating cells that are magnetically sensitive. You could put them in the brain or body and turn them on or off with magnetic fields of certain wavelengths or frequencies to give balance or hearing back to the ear or smells back to the nose."

"Nature has a lot more yet to teach us," he added. "This study shows us that."

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Delhi Mango Festival: Going bananas over mangoes

If there is one thing which is awaited eagerly other than the advent of the monsoon in India, then, undoubtedly, it is the advent of the mango season. The mounds and mounds of fleshy mangoes that inundate the markets each year are the only silver lining to the hot months of summer.

Mangoes have been celebrated in songs and literature and even the mango tree, its branches and leaves form a part of daily life in India. India’s love for the mangoes is hardly surprising as the country is the largest producer of mangoes.

Some interesting facts about mangoes:

Did you know mangoes account for approximately half of all tropical fruits produced worldwide?
Did you know that Tommy Atkins, the slang for British soldeir, is also the name of the variety of mangoes which dominates the market in US?
Did you know that besides Bollywood and cricket, India and Pakistan share their love for mangoes? It is the national fruit of India and Pakistan.
Did you know that India is the largest producer of mangoes; however, it accounts for less than one per cent of international mango trade? Can you guess the reason? Simple, India consumes most of its own production.
Like, other parts of India, Delhi eagerly awaits, its date with the king of fruits each year. The relish with which Dilliwallahs savour mangoes is a sight to behold. What more proof would you need than the fact that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, famous Urdu poet and prominent Delhi resident, has even written poems about the king of fruits.

Situated next to some of the largest mango producing regions in India, Delhi has had the luxury of biting into the choicest varieties of mangoes. The Dilliwalahs’ love for the fruit has ensured that the fruit from nearby states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and also from Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh flood its market every year.

So much is the love for the fruit that Delhi has been celebrating the mango season with a festival dedicated to the king of fruits. In its 24th year, the Mango Festival would be held at the Dilli Haat in Pitampura from July 6-8. Mango aficionados will be treated to over 500 varieties of mangoes. So huge has been the response to the festival over the years that it has become a calendar event.

The festival is organised with the purpose of bringing together mango cultivators, farmers and tourists on a single platform, according to Sudheer Sobti, Chief Manager (PR&Pub.) Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation.

While the visitors can go bananas over mangoes, the festival has the onerous task of providing exposure to domestic mango industry and also an opportunity to agro and food processing industries, not to speak of promoting tourism. The numbers speak for themselves about the festival’s success. In 2010, about 54,000 people visited the festival while in 2011, it was 56,000.

The festival will have mangoes mainly from Uttranchal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Haryana and Punjab. The festival promises to be a sensory treat as you make your way through the venue. In your hurry, do not forget to taste the platters of cut fruit offered by vendors.

To add to the mango experience, there would be mango eating competition and slogan writing competition. If you are the types who keep a lookout for new recipes, then learn how to prepare aam panna.

So if you want to prove yourself a mango aficionado, the 24th Mango Festival is where you should be.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Fetal Solar System Aborted

Astronomers believe the star, mysteriously stripped of its planet-forming dust disk, still has the right stuff for making planets.
1) A star's planet-forming dust disk vanished in less than two years.
2) The dust grains probably were remnants of two rocky proto-planets that crashed.
3) The finding adds a new twist into the story of how planets like Earth may form.

An artist's rendering of TYC 8241 2652 1 as it appeared several years ago when it was emitting large amounts of excess infrared radiation.

For a long while, it looked like the young star known as TYC 8241 2652 1 was getting ready to make some planets.

The sun-like star, located about 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus was encircled by a disk of warm, brightly glowing dust located about as far away from the star as Mercury orbits the sun.

But something strange happened between 2008, when the star was observed by a powerful ground-based infrared telescope in Chile, and 2010 when NASA's WISE infrared space telescope took a look: The dust was gone.