Every dog has its day: a new journal for canine genetics and epidemiology

The launch of a new journal dedicated to canine genetics and epidemiology is both timely, and needed, to support research communities within veterinary medicine, wildlife conservation, evolutionary biology and canine comparative health genetics. In this context, we are delighted to announce the launch of Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, an open access journal published by BioMed Central with the support and backing of the UK Kennel Club.

The last decade has witnessed an unprecedented increase in genetic analysis of canine species especially the domestic dog. This has largely been driven through major advances in molecular biology, high throughput DNA sequencing and genotyping, comparative genomics, statistical methodology and the development of high powered computers. Sequencing of the dog genome has been a critical factor for driving this progress. The importance of the dog, both to science and veterinary medicine, is underscored by the fact that its genome was one of the first mammalian species to be sequenced after man. Having established the dog genome sequence, we are now defining the level of genetic variability both within and between breeds, and investigating and refining the evolutionary relationships between canine species. Such knowledge is now having an impact on research, translating into clinical benefit through the introduction of new screening initiatives for disease related gene variants and also informing breeding programmes. Eventually genetic knowledge will help tailor and optimise therapeutic dosage and indicate which drugs should be used or avoided.

These advances are now leading to major discoveries, which need to be published as quickly as possible, and communicated to the widest possible audience. It can be difficult to publish canine genetic and epidemiological studies in specialist (mainly human) journals, as they are likely to be assessed by referees who are more experienced with human rather than canine research. Some aspects of study design for canine genetic analyses differ significantly from the way human population studies are currently investigated. This is because human populations tend to be mostly unrelated, in contrast to the dog, where within breeds, dogs are often closely related. Human disease association studies can require sample sizes of many thousands of cases and controls to generate the statistical power needed to detect genetic risk factors; in canine studies it has been shown that sample sizes of a hundred or fewer may suffice. Furthermore, statistical analyses used for human studies may be inappropriate for use in canine studies of inbred populations. Existing journals are often too general to assess canine genetic and epidemiology papers appropriately and may not have sufficient specialist referees since each journal receives a limited number of canine papers. Currently, it is rare to have rapid publication of canine genetics research.

Epidemiological studies exploring canine disease risk are now expanding rapidly, arising from analyses of data from second opinion referral centres and pet insurance companies. More robust approaches, such as the use of longitudinal cohort studies, are also being introduced. Reporting both canine genetic and epidemiology research reports in a single journal is appropriate, as both genetic and environmental factors contribute and interact to trigger disease processes. It is important that both genes and environment should not be studied in isolation. Through publishing both canine genetic and epidemiological research in a single journal, we hope to bring research communities closer.

Domestication of the dog from the wolf some 10–15,000 years ago, is a recent event in terms of evolutionary time scale. Sequencing genomes for different canine species is underway and is revealing their evolutionary relationships. This will lead to important insights into canine physiology, health and disease, and help facilitate conservation and wildlife management policies.

Comparative genetic approaches using studies in one species to help identify disease related genes in another species are well established. Comparative maps of the genomes of a wide range of species exist, and it is possible to cross reference the chromosomal position of a disease causing gene found in one species to its location in another species. The term “animal model” is often used to describe animal based pathology which represents that seen in human diseases; many of these models are experimentally induced rather than occurring naturally. Furthermore, many experimentally induced animal disease models represent only partial aspects of their counterpart human condition. The standard model species are usually mice or rats. However, the dog genome is more similar to that of the human than rodents. It is now recognised that domestic dogs spontaneously develop many clinical conditions that are also seen in humans, and these may have similar if not identical underlying pathological processes. Examples include cancers, autoimmune diseases, allergies, eye diseases, musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. Veterinarians involved in research benefit from specialist training to clinically describe their canine patients, unlike research scientists working with rodent animal disease models. The research potential that the dog offers for comparative studies has started to bring dog owners and breed clubs together with veterinary and human clinical scientists to develop collaborations which benefits both human and canine medicine.

The existence of a wide range of dog breeds where some are particularly predisposed to certain diseases represents great potential for conducting comparative studies. In many ways they are similar to isolated inbred human populations, such as the Amish, which have been critical for identifying disease causing mutations. Most domestic dog breeds are of recent origin having been developed over the last 300 years. Selective breeding of dogs with particular physical or behavioural attributes, have been fixed by restricting breeding to within defined pedigrees. Across all dog breeds there is now a wide range of gene mutations encoding the extremes of many physical and behavioural characteristics; e.g. the size variation between Great Dane and Chihuahua. One consequence of breed formation has been that undesirable and/or unrecognised disease causing genes have been inadvertently included along with desirable attributes.

The potential of the domestic dog for comparative disease studies formed the basis for a four year EU Frame Work 7 research award called LUPA. This brought together research geneticists, epidemiologists and veterinarians across Europe with the sole mission identifying the genetics of canine diseases that also represent important human conditions. A wide range of diseases were included.

Two aspects are seen to be paramount for the scope and focus of this new Journal. Firstly, that the Journal should be open access, so it can disseminate research and knowledge to a wide, international readership. Secondly that it should completely embrace “public engagement with science”. There are many dog owners and breeders around the world committed to understanding and improving the health and welfare of domestic dogs. Further potential readers include those who are committed to wildlife and conservation biology. This journal will provide an opportunity to bring scientists, veterinarians, dog owners and an interested general public closer together.

Every article published will have a lay summary and we will occasionally include lay interpretations of complex scientific terminology.


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The REAL healthcare problem: 12,000,000 adult outpatients misdiagnosed in US every year; half of errors potentially harmful, say researchers

At least one in 20 adults is misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics in the US every year, amounting to 12 million people nationwide, and posing a “substantial patient safety risk,” finds research published online in BMJ Quality & Safety.

Half of these errors could be potentially harmful, say the authors, who add that their findings should prompt renewed efforts to monitor and curb the numbers of misdiagnoses.

To date, patient safety improvements have largely focused on hospital stays and issues such as infections, falls, and medication errors, say the authors. But most diagnoses are made in outpatient clinics, where patients are looked after by several different healthcare teams and few safety concerns are ever reported.

And because there are no reliable estimates of how common misdiagnoses are, it has been difficult to prioritize strategies to reduce them, they add.

In a bid to gauge the numbers of diagnostic errors made in US outpatient clinics every year, the authors combined data from several published studies, involving hundreds of medical records, sampled from a large pool of outpatient clinic visits.

This approach overcomes many of the challenges inherent in making similar assessments from malpractice data, autopsy reports, or specialized fields of medicine, say the authors.

The records were reviewed in detail to see if a diagnostic error had been made. The proportion of errors found was then applied to the larger population of all outpatient visits and then to the US adult population as a whole to estimate the annual frequency of misdiagnoses.

Based on these data, the authors calculated the numbers of new cases of misdiagnoses at 5.08%, suggesting that at least 1 in 20 US adults is misdiagnosed every year. And around half of these mistakes could potentially be harmful, if previous research is anything to go by, they say.

If these figures are applied to the US population as a whole, this works out at around 12 million adults each year.

Healthcare organizations, patient advocates, policymakers, and researchers should use the findings to push for further strategies to improve patient safety in this area, conclude the authors.


Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care

Posted in Health Care: Costs, Health Care: Health Insurance, Health Care: Hospitals, Health Care: Medical Errors | Leave a comment

Heart health polypill has potential benefits: Northwestern researchers

CHICAGO — Taking one pill instead of three could be a powerful ally to prevent cardiovascular disease, according to a new Cochrane systematic review of the latest research on polypills from a team of scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Warwick Medical School and Northwestern Medicine.

A polypill typically combines an aspirin, statin and at least one blood pressure medication into a single pill. The idea of putting multiple drugs into a single pill is not new; it is done in HIV combination therapy, for example. However, polypills have the potential for widespread use and could potentially help prevent heart attacks and stroke while helping people live longer. Such drug combinations are not yet on the market in the U.S. or the UK but can be bought online.

The review included analysis of 7,047 patients in nine randomized controlled trials from around the world from 2009 to 2013 and is the largest and most comprehensive review of polypill literature to date. The findings were published April 16 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Scientists found that the combination therapy — taking one pill instead of three separate pills — made it easier for people to adhere to a treatment plan. In one large study, polypills were shown to improve adherence by 33 percent compared with those who underwent usual care for cardiovascular disease prevention, the scientists said.

In several of the latest studies, the scientists found that a polypill lowered systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol but the overall effects of a polypill may be similar to usual care. Adverse events were more common in people treated with a polypill but there was no strong evidence of a difference in serious adverse events between those taking a polypill and those on placebo or control.

“We know that half of the people around the world who have had a heart attack or stroke take zero medicines after the incident,” said Mark Huffman, M.D., corresponding author of the review. “A single polypill could not only make it easier for patients to take their medications, but could also provide the maximal benefit from a single pill. However, there is not going to be one magical pill for everybody. I think we can expect different polypills with different doses of medication.”

Huffman is an assistant professor in preventive medicine and medicine-cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He is also the coordinating editor of the Cochrane Heart Group Satellite United States, which is based at the Feinberg School.

“Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide,” said Shah Ebrahim, study co-author and professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “In the Britain, they cause about a third of all deaths — more than 180,000 each year. Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels by introduction of a polypill could simplify treatment, improve adherence and thereby save lives and reduce health care costs.”

Huffman said the polypill has the potential to be added to the World Health Organization’s “Model List of Essential Medicines” in the future, maybe as soon as next year.

“The WHO has already named the polypill one of the ‘top five best buys’ for preventing chronic diseases globally, and while more research is needed, the polypill has the potential to avoid millions of premature deaths and related morbidity from cardiovascular disease at low cost,” he said.
- See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/04/evidence-points-to-potential-benefits-of-polypill-for-heart-health.html#sthash.BER9t9ca.dpuf


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For Fragile X syndrome, a potential treatment strategy

With no cure available, Fragile X syndrome is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability. Individuals with the syndrome cannot produce enough of a protein—called the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP)—whose function has remained somewhat mysterious. Now researchers, reporting online April 17 in the Cell Press journal Molecular Cell, show that the FMRP protein regulates the machinery within a cell that is responsible for generating all functional proteins. The findings provide new insights into how Fragile X syndrome develops and could lead to novel therapies that might help restore some of the capabilities lost in affected individuals.

FMRP is highly expressed in the brain and is important for normal brain development. Previous studies have shown that FMRP regulates the expression of many proteins throughout the brain, and that in the absence of FMRP, ribosomes—the protein-synthesizing machinery of the cell—will translate some of the brain’s genetic material into proteins in an inappropriate fashion, resulting in disease. However, the precise mechanism used by FMRP to regulate protein expression is unknown.

“In this study, we clearly show that FMRP binds directly to the ribosome such that it would regulate its function,” says Dr. Rajendra Agrawal, one of the senior authors and a principal investigator at the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health and the State University of New York at Albany. “FMRP binds in between the two ribosomal subunits, overlapping with the binding position of various translational factors on the ribosome,” he explains. Thus, when FMRP is bound to the ribosome, it influences the binding of other critical factors that attach to the ribosome and are important for the proper production of brain proteins.

The findings were made in fruit flies, which have FMRP and ribosomes that are similar to those in humans. While the researchers were able to map the primary binding site of FMRP on the ribosome in fruit flies, more detailed studies are needed to help investigators determine if these interactions also occur in humans and identify potential drugs that might target the ribosome to help restore normal protein production in the brains of patients with Fragile X syndrome.

The findings could also provide insights into other conditions that may be caused by defects in translation of genetic information into proteins. “Similar to FMRP, it is possible that there are other proteins in the cell that bind directly to the ribosome as well to regulate gene expression,” says senior author Dr. Simpson Joseph of the University of California at San Diego. “When these translational regulatory proteins are mutated, it may lead to disease.”


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Weight gain in children occurs after tonsil removal, not linked to obesity

Weight gain in children after they have their tonsils removed (adenotonsillectomy) occurs primarily in children who are smaller and younger at the time of the surgery, and weight gain was not linked with increased rates of obesity.

About 500,000 children in the United States have their tonsils removed each year. The childhood obesity rate prompted reevaluation of the question of weight gain after adenotonsillectomy.

The authors reviewed medical records and the final study consisted of 815 patients (ages 18 years and younger) who underwent adenotonsillectomy from 2007 through October 2012.

The greatest increases in weight were seen in children who were smaller (in the 1st through 60th percentiles for weight) and who were younger than 4 years at the time of surgery. Children older than 8 years gained the least weight. An increase in weight was not seen in children who were heavier (above the 80th percentile in weight) before surgery. At 18 months after surgery, weight percentiles in the study population increased by an average of 6.3 percentile points. Body mass index percentiles increased by an average 8 percentile points. Smaller children had larger increases in BMI percentile but larger children did not.

“Despite the finding that many children gain weight and have higher BMIs after tonsillectomy, in our study, the proportion of children who were obese (BMI >95th percentile) before surgery (14.5 percent) remained statistically unchanged after surgery (16.3 percent). On the basis of this work, adenotonsillectomy does not correlate with increased rates of childhood obesity.”


Authors: Josephine A. Czechowicz, M.D., and Kay W. Chang, M.D., of the Stanford University School of Medicine, California.

(JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online April 17, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2014.411.


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Treating depression in Parkinson’s disease

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 21, 2014) — A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Published in the journal Psychiatry Research, the study, which assessed cognitive function in depressed and non-depressed patients with PD, found that the dopamine replacement therapy commonly used to treat motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease was associated with a decline in cognitive performance among depressed Parkinson patients.
In contrast, non-depressed Parkinson patients’ cognitive function improved on dopamine replacement therapy.

The study also found that mood in depressed Parkinson’s patients was actually worse while on dopaminergic medications.

“This was a surprise,” said Lee Blonder, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. “It is the opposite of our original hypothesis that both groups of PD patients would improve in cognitive performance on dopaminergic medications, and that mood in the depressed PD group would also improve.”

A cohort of 28 patients with PD — 18 nondepressed and 10 depressed — were given a baseline series of tests to assess cognitive function and the incidence and severity of depression. They were then re-tested with and without their dopamine replacement therapy.

Results revealed a statistically significant interaction between depression and medication status on three measures of verbal memory and a facial affect naming task. In all cases, depressed Parkinson’s patients performed significantly more poorly while on dopaminergic medication than while off. The opposite pattern emerged for the non-depressed Parkinson’s group.

Depression is a common and serious co-morbidity in patients with Parkinson’s; studies suggest that approximately 40 percent of PD patients suffer from depression.

Blonder cautions that these results are to some extent preliminary due to the small cohort of 28 participants. “Additional studies are required before these results should be used to alter treatment plans,” Blonder says. But, “future research should ultimately focus on investigating treatment options for patients with Parkinson’s and depression to maximize patient function without compromising their mental health.”


Posted in Mental Health: Depression, Parkinson's | Leave a comment

Yoga may help women ease PTSD symptoms

(Reuters Health) – Women enrolled in a small study reported a reduction in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a series of yoga classes.

However, women in a comparison group that didn’t take the classes also reported a similar decline in symptoms, researchers found.

“The yoga group did well – they improved in their PTSD symptoms – and our control group actually did well, which we didn’t expect,” Karen Mitchell told Reuters Health.

Mitchell, from the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System, led the new study.

“I do emphasize that the yoga (group) definitely didn’t do worse,” she said. “Yoga could potentially be triggering for people with trauma, so while that’s not as exciting a finding, I think it is important to say that.”

About one in 10 U.S. women is affected by PTSD, according to the authors. Many say that alternative and complementary therapies – such as yoga – help them cope with the symptoms, which can include trouble sleeping and having flashbacks related to the traumatic event, known as re-experiencing.

“It can be very debilitating and in the general population it affects women about twice as often as men,” Mitchell said. Her team’s findings were published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.


Multiple titles about yoga and PTSD on Amazon

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Off-season doesn’t allow brain to recover from football hits, study says

Six months off may not be long enough for the brains of football players to completely heal after a single season, putting them at even greater risk of head injury the next season.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but this is something to be concerned about,” said Jeffrey J. Bazarian, M.D., associate professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and lead author of the study, published in PLOS ONE.

“At this point we don’t know the implications, but there is a valid concern that six months of no-contact rest may not be enough for some players,” he said. “And the reality of high school, college and professional athletics is that most players don’t actually rest during the off-season. They continue to train and push themselves and prepare for the next season.”

Bazarian investigated the brains of 10 Division III University of Rochester football players before the start of the 2011 season, at the conclusion of the season, and after six months of no-contact rest. All took part in daily practices and weekly games, but none of them suffered a concussion.

Imaging scans showed changes consistent with mild brain injury in about half of the players six-months after the season ended, despite the fact that no one had a concussion. Brain changes in the football players were compared to a control group of five college students who didn’t play contact sports.

The new data also suggest that inflammation may be a key factor in whether players recovered within six months. Levels of inflammatory markers present in a player’s blood sample correlated with a lack of complete brain recovery.

“What is an adequate rest period? We don’t know. Six months may be enough for some players but not for others,” Bazarian said. “The autoimmune response and inflammation we observed in the blood of players who didn’t recover could be a result of genetics, diet, or other factors, but it was not the result of a concussion, since none of the athletes suffered one.”

Bazarian noted that his goal is not to derail football, but to make the sport safer. One idea that has been proposed by organizations such as the Sports Legacy Institute is to implement a system similar to the pitch count used in baseball. In football, this would mean identifying a threshold number of head hits of a certain force – above which the brain is likely to develop white matter changes consistent with injury, and removing players from the game once they reach that threshold.

Some in the field have also proposed that no child under the age of 14 should have head contact in football, Bazarian said, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA is considering a limit of two contact-practices a week.

The UR college players who participated in the study wore accelerometers mounted inside their helmets, which were provided by Riddell, a leading manufacturer of football equipment. Researchers were able to track every hit, from seemingly light blows in practice to the most dangerous type of hit – a bobble head phenomenon known as rotational acceleration. They found that the players sustained between 431 and 1,850 head blows in the single football season, none of which resulted in a concussion.

Investigators observed brain changes with advanced technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which is similar to an MRI scan. They also measured changes with standard balance and cognitive tests and blood tests.

Bazarian’s analysis revealed that white matter changes in the players’ brains started to look different from the control group when players experienced as few as 10 to 15 head impacts with a rotational acceleration that exceeded 6000 rads/sec2. For reference, when a person nods his head up and down as fast as possible, this produces a rotational acceleration of approximately 180 rads/sec2.

Future studies are needed, and already a follow-up project is underway to focus on inflammation. Ten additional football players were added to the 2011 data, for a total of 20 players plus the five controls. In collaboration with researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic, Bazarian’s group is analyzing inflammatory markers in the blood of the players and comparing them to the DTI images.


Posted in Sports Medicine: Injuries: Concussion | Leave a comment

The New Nordic Diet is an effective tool in environmental protection

The New Nordic Diet is an effective tool in environmental protection: it reduces the associated socioeconomic cost of diets 1,2,3

Henrik Saxe

First published March 26, 2014, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.113.066746 Am J Clin Nutr May 2014 vol. 99 no. 5 1117-1125

- Author Affiliations

1From the Department of Food and Resource Economics, Faculty of Science, Copenhagen University, Frederiksberg C, Denmark.

- Author Notes

↵2 The OPUS project, “Optimal well-being, development and health for Danish children through a healthy New Nordic Diet,” was supported by a grant from the Nordea Foundation.

↵3 Address correspondence to H Saxe, Department of Food and Resource Economics, Faculty of Science, Copenhagen University, Frederiksberg C, Rolighedsvej 25, DK-1958 Denmark. E-mail: saxe@ifro.ku.dk.


Background: The New Nordic Diet (NND) was designed by gastronomic, nutritional, and environmental specialists to be a palatable, healthy, and sustainable diet containing 35% less meat than the Average Danish Diet (ADD); more whole-grain products, nuts, fruit, and vegetables; locally grown food in season; and >75% organic produce. The environmental impact of the 2 diets was compared based on 16 impact categories, which were monetized to evaluate the overall socioeconomic effect of a shift from an ADD to an NND.

Objective: The objective was to determine whether this diet shift can be an effective tool in environmental protection.

Design: The 3 features by which this diet shift affects the environment—composition, transport (import), and type of production (organic/conventional)—were separately investigated by using life cycle assessment.

Results: When both diet composition and transport were taken into account, the NND reduced the environmental impact relative to the ADD measured by all 16 impact categories. The socioeconomic savings related to this diet shift was €266/person per year, or 32% of the overall environmental cost of the ADD. When the actual 8% content of organic produce in the ADD and the 84% content of organic produce in the investigated recipe-based NND were also taken into account, the NND reduced the environmental impact relative to the ADD measured by only 10 of the 16 impact categories whereas 6 were increased. The socioeconomic savings related to the diet shift were lowered to €42/person per year, or 5% of the overall environmental cost of the ADD.

Conclusion: Reducing the content of meat and excluding most long-distance imports were of substantial environmental and socioeconomic advantage to the NND when compared with the ADD, whereas including high amounts of organic produce was a disadvantage.


Posted in Environmental Health: Sustainability, Nutrition: Food: Organic | Leave a comment

Religious music brings benefit to Christian seniors’ mental health

A new article published online in The Gerontologist reports that among older Christians, listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-esteem, and sense of control over their lives. In particular, listening to gospel music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and an increase in sense of control.

These associations are similar for blacks and whites, women and men, and individuals of both low- and high-socioeconomic status.

The article, titled “Listening to Religious Music and Mental Health in Later Life,” was authored by Matt Bradshaw, PhD, of Baylor University; Christopher G. Ellison, PhD, of the University of Texas-San Antonio; Qijan Fang, MA, of Bowling Green State University; and Collin Mueller, MA, of Duke University.

“Religion is an important socioemotional resource that has been linked with desirable mental health outcomes among older U.S. adults,” the authors stated. “This study shows that listening to religious music may promote psychological well-being in later life.”

The data for the study come from two waves (taken in 2001 and 2004) of the nationwide Religion, Aging, and Health Survey of older black and white U.S. adults. The population consisted of household residents who were either black or white, non-institutionalized, English speaking, and at least 65 years of age. Responses were only collected from currently practicing Christians, those who identified as Christians in the past but no longer practice any religion, and those not affiliated with any faith at any point in their lifetime. The present analysis is based upon 1,024 individuals who participated in both waves of the survey.

“Given that religious music is available to most individuals — even those with health problems or physical limitations that might preclude participating in more formal aspects of religious life — it might be a valuable resource for promoting mental health later in the life course,” the authors wrote.

The survey respondents were asked how often they listened to both religious music and gospel music on a scale ranging from “never” to “several times a day.” Death anxiety, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and sense of control were measures how strongly the respondent agreed with a series of statements. These included, but were not limited to, “I find it hard to face up to the fact that I will die,” “These are the best years of my life,” “I take a positive attitude toward myself,” and “I have a lot of influence over most things that happen in my life.”


Posted in Elder Care, Music, Music Therapy | Leave a comment

3-million-year-old landscape beneath Greenland ice sheet discovered

Glaciers and ice sheets are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything — vegetation, soil and even the top layer of bedrock. So a team of university scientists and a NASA colleague were greatly surprised to discover an ancient tundra landscape preserved under the Greenland Ice Sheet, below two miles of ice.

“We found organic soil that has been frozen to the bottom of the ice sheet for 2.7 million years,” said University of Vermont geologist and lead author Paul Bierman. The finding provides strong evidence that the Greenland Ice Sheet has persisted much longer than previously known, enduring through many past periods of global warming.

The team reported their discovery on April 17 in the journal Science.

Greenland is a place of great interest to scientists and policymakers because the future stability of its huge ice sheet — the size of Alaska — will have a fundamental influence on how fast and high global sea levels rise from human-caused climate change.

“The ancient soil under the Greenland ice sheet helps to unravel an important mystery surrounding climate change,” said Dylan Rood, a co-author on the new study, from the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre and the University of California, Santa Barbara. “How did big ice sheets melt and grow in response to changes in temperature?”

The new discovery indicates that even during the warmest periods since the ice sheet formed, the center of Greenland remained stable. “It’s likely that it did not fully melt at any time,” Bierman said. This allowed a tundra landscape to be locked away, unmodified, under ice through millions of years of global warming and cooling.

“Some ice sheet models project that the Greenland Ice Sheet completely melted during previous interglacial periods. These data suggest that did not happen,” said co-author Tom Neumann, a cryospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We don’t know how much of the ice sheet remained – to estimate it, we’d have to study other ice cores in Greenland that have sediment in the bottom to see if ancient soil is preserved under those sites as well.”

The scientists tested seventeen samples of “dirty ice” – ice with sediment mixed in — from the bottommost 40 feet of the 10,019-foot GISP2 ice core extracted from Summit, Greenland, in 1993. From this sediment, Bierman and a team at the University of Vermont’s Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory extracted a rare form of the element beryllium, an isotope called beryllium-10. Formed by cosmic rays, it falls from the sky and sticks to rock and soil. The longer soil is exposed at Earth’s surface, the more beryllium-10 it accumulates. Measuring how much is in soil or a rock gives geologists a kind of exposure clock.

The researchers expected to only find soil eroded from glacier-scoured bedrock in the sediment at the bottom of the ice core. But the silt they did find had very high concentrations of beryllium-10 when the team measured it on a particle accelerator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Livermore, Calif.

“On a global basis, we only find these sorts of beryllium concentrations in soils that have developed over hundreds of thousands to millions of years,” said co-author Joseph Graly, who analyzed the beryllium data while at the University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.

The new research, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, shows that the soil had been stable and exposed at the surface for somewhere between 200,000 and one million years before being covered by ice.

To help interpret these unexpected findings, the team also measured nitrogen and carbon that could have been left by plant material in the core sample. “The fact that measurable amounts of organic material were found in the silty ice indicates that soil must have been present under the ice,” said co-author Andrea Lini at the University of Vermont. The composition of the material suggested that the pre-glacial landscape may have been a partially forested tundra.

“Greenland really was green! However, it was millions of years ago,” said Rood. “Before it was covered by the second largest body of ice on Earth, Greenland looked like the green Alaskan tundra.” To confirm their findings about this ancient landscape, the researchers also measured beryllium levels in a modern permafrost tundra soil on the North Slope of Alaska and found that the values were very similar.

With an eye toward better understanding its future behavior, many geologists are seeking a long-term view of the history of the Greenland Ice Sheet, including how it moves and has shaped the landscape beneath it. Its 656,000 square miles of ice contain enough water, if fully melted, to raise global sea levels twenty-three feet. “Yet, we have very little information about what is happening at the bed with regards to erosion and landscape formation,” said Corbett.

What is clear, however, from an abundance of worldwide indicators, is that global temperatures are on a path to be “far warmer than the warmest interglacials in millions of years,” said Bierman. “There is a 2.7-million-year-old soil sitting under Greenland. The ice sheet on top of it has not disappeared in the time in which humans became a species. But if we keep on our current trajectory, the ice sheet will not survive. And once you clear it off, it’s really hard to put it back on.”


Posted in Environmental Health: Climate, Geology | Leave a comment

Yogurt’s role in aging

Yogurt: role in healthy and active aging 1,2,3,4

Naglaa Hani El-Abbadi,
Maria Carlota Dao, and
Simin Nikbin Meydani

First published April 2, 2014, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.113.073957 Am J Clin Nutr May 2014 vol. 99 no. 5 1263S-1270S

- Author Affiliations

1From the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA.

- Author Notes

↵2 Presented at the satellite symposium “First Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yogurt,” held in Boston, MA, at ASN’s Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology 2013, 24 April 2013. The conference was organized by the ASN, the Nutrition Society, Danone Institute International, and the Dairy Research Institute. The supplement scientific guest editors were Sharon M Donovan, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, and Raanan Shamir, Schneider Children’s Medical Center and Tel Aviv University, Israel.

↵3 Sources of grant support for NHE-A, MCD, and SNM include USDA agreements 58-1950-0-014.

↵4 Address correspondence to SN Meydani, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111. E-mail: simin.meydani@tufts.edu.


Yogurt consumption has been associated with health benefits in different populations. Limited information, however, is available on nutritional and health attributes of yogurt in older adults.

Yogurt is abundant in calcium, zinc, B vitamins, and probiotics; it is a good source of protein; and it may be supplemented with vitamin D and additional probiotics associated with positive health outcomes.

Aging is accompanied by a wide array of nutritional deficiencies and health complications associated with under- and overnutrition, including musculoskeletal impairment, immunosenescence, cardiometabolic diseases, and cognitive impairment.

Furthermore, yogurt is accessible and convenient to consume by the older population, which makes yogurt consumption a feasible approach to enhance older adults’ nutritional status.

A limited number of studies have specifically addressed the impact of yogurt on the nutritional and health status of older adults, and most are observational.

However, those reported thus far and reviewed here are encouraging and suggest that yogurt could play a role in improving the nutritional status and health of older adults.

In addition, these reports support further investigation into the role of yogurt in healthy and active aging.


The Cuisinart Yogurt Maker

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Neuroanatomy turned on its head by new Harvard finding

Harvard neuroscientists have made a discovery that turns 160 years of neuroanatomy on its head.

Myelin, the electrical insulating material long known to be essential for the fast transmission of impulses along the axons of nerve cells, is not as ubiquitous as thought, according to a new work lead by Professor Paola Arlotta of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) and the University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, in collaboration with Professor Jeff Lichtman, of Harvard’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

“Myelin is a relatively recent invention during evolution,” says Arlotta. “It’s thought that myelin allowed the brain to communicate really fast to the far reaches of the body, and that it has endowed the brain with the capacity to compute higher level functions.” In fact, loss of myelin is a feature of a number of devastating diseases, including multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia.

But the new research shows that despite myelin essential roles in the brain, “some of the most evolved, most complex neurons of the nervous system have less myelin than older, more ancestral ones” Arlotta, co-director of the HSCI neuroscience program, says.

What this means, Arlotta says, is that the higher in the cerebral cortex one looks – the closer to the top of the brain, which is its most evolved region – the less myelin one finds. Not only that, but “neurons in this part of the brain display a brand new way of positioning myelin along their axons that has not been previously seen. They have ‘intermittent myelin’ with long axon tracts that lack myelin interspersed among myelin-rich segments.

Arlotta continues: “contrary to the common assumptions that neurons use a universal profile of myelin distribution on their axons, the work indicate that different neurons choose to myelinate their axons differently. In classic neurobiology textbooks myelin is represented on axons as a sequence of myelinated segments separated by very short nodes that lack myelin. This distribution of myelin was tacitly assumed to be always the same, on every neuron, from the beginning to the end of the axon. This new work finds this not to be the case.”

The results of the research by Arlotta and post doctoral fellow Giulio Srubek Tomassy, the first author on the report, are published in the latest edition of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The paper is accompanied by a “Perspective” by R. Douglas Fields, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, at the National Institutes of Health, who says that Arlotta and Tomassy’s findings raise important questions about the purpose of myelin, “are likely to spark new concepts about how information is transmitted and integrated in the brain.”

Arlotta and Tomassy collaborated closely on the new work with postdoctoral fellow Daniel Berger of the Lichtman group, which generated one of the two massive electron microscopy data bases that made the work possible.

“The fact that it is the most evolved neurons, the ones that have expanded dramatically in humans, suggests that what we’re seeing might be the “future”. As neuronal diversity increases and the brain needs to process more and more complex information, neurons change the way they use myelin to “achieve” more”, says Arlotta.

It is possible, said Tomassy, that these profiles of myelination “may be giving neurons an opportunity to branch out and ‘talk’ to neighboring neurons”. For example, because axons cannot make synaptic contacts when they are myelinated, a possibility is that these long myelin gaps may be needed to increase neuronal communication and synchronize responses across different neurons. Perhaps, he and Arlotta postulate, the intermittent myelin is intended to fine-tune the electrical impulses traveling along the axons, in order to allow the emergence of highly complex neuronal behaviors.


Posted in Brain, Mental Health: Schizophrenia, Multiple Sclerosis | Leave a comment

The new and better way to deal with bad memories

What’s one of your worst memories? How did it make you feel? According to psychologists, remembering the emotions felt during a negative personal experience, such as how sad you were or how embarrassed you felt, can lead to emotional distress, especially when you can’t stop thinking about it.

When these negative memories creep up, thinking about the context of the memories, rather than how you felt, is a relatively easy and effective way to alleviate the negative effects of these memories, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, led by psychology professor Florin Dolcos of the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, studied the behavioral and neural mechanisms of focusing away from emotion during recollection of personal emotional memories, and found that thinking about the contextual elements of the memories significantly reduced their emotional impact.

“Sometimes we dwell on how sad, embarrassed, or hurt we felt during an event, and that makes us feel worse and worse. This is what happens in clinical depression—ruminating on the negative aspects of a memory,” Dolcos said. “But we found that instead of thinking about your emotions during a negative memory, looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there, what the weather was like, or anything else non-emotional that was part of the memory, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with that memory. Once you immerse yourself in other details, your mind will wander to something else entirely, and you won’t be focused on the negative emotions as much.”

This simple strategy, the study suggests, is a promising alternative to other emotion-regulation strategies, like suppression or reappraisal.

“Suppression is bottling up your emotions, trying to put them away in a box. This is a strategy that can be effective in the short term, but in the long run, it increases anxiety and depression,” explains Sanda Dolcos, co-author on the study and postdoctoral research associate at the Beckman Institute and in the Department of Psychology.

“Another otherwise effective emotion regulation strategy, reappraisal, or looking at the situation differently to see the glass half full, can be cognitively demanding. The strategy of focusing on non-emotional contextual details of a memory, on the other hand, is as simple as shifting the focus in the mental movie of your memories and then letting your mind wander.”

Not only does this strategy allow for effective short-term emotion regulation, but it has the possibility of lessening the severity of a negative memory with prolonged use.

In the study, participants were asked to share their most emotional negative and positive memories, such as the birth of a child, winning an award, or failing an exam, explained Sanda Dolcos. Several weeks later participants were given cues that would trigger their memories while their brains were being scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Before each memory cue, the participants were asked to remember each event by focusing on either the emotion surrounding the event or the context. For example, if the cue triggered a memory of a close friend’s funeral, thinking about the emotional context could consist of remembering your grief during the event. If you were asked to remember contextual elements, you might instead remember what outfit you wore or what you ate that day.

“Neurologically, we wanted to know what happened in the brain when people were using this simple emotion-regulation strategy to deal with negative memories or enhance the impact of positive memories,” explained Ekaterina Denkova, first author of the report. “One thing we found is that when participants were focused on the context of the event, brain regions involved in basic emotion processing were working together with emotion control regions in order to, in the end, reduce the emotional impact of these memories.”

Using this strategy promotes healthy functioning not only by reducing the negative impact of remembering unwanted memories, but also by increasing the positive impact of cherished memories, Florin Dolcos said.

In the future, the researchers hope to determine if this strategy is effective in lessening the severity of negative memories over the long term. They also hope to work with clinically depressed or anxious participants to see if this strategy is effective in alleviating these psychiatric conditions.


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Which 3 groups of people are most likely to be compassionate?

Newswise — Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that older women, plucky individuals and those who have suffered a recent major loss are more likely to be compassionate toward strangers than other older adults.

The study is published in this month’s issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Because compassionate behaviors are associated with better health and well-being as we age, the research findings offer insights into ways to improve the outcomes of individuals whose deficits in compassion put them at risk for becoming lonely and isolated later in life.

“We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully,” said Lisa Eyler, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and co-author. “We know that social connections are important to health and well-being, and we know that people who want to be kind to others garner greater social support. If we can foster compassion in people, we can improve their health and well-being, and maybe even longevity.”

The study, based on a survey of 1,006 randomly selected adults in San Diego County, aged 50 and over, with a mean age of 77, identified three factors that were predictive of a person’s self-reported compassion: gender, recent suffering and high mental resiliency.

Women, independent of their age, income, education, race, marital status or mental health status, scored higher on the compassion test, on average, than men. Higher levels of compassion were also observed among both men and women who had “walked a mile in another person’s shoes” and experienced a personal loss, such as a death in the family or illness, in the last year.

Those who reported higher confidence in their ability to bounce back from hard times also reported more empathy toward strangers and joy from helping those in need.

“What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful aging that we can foster in both men and women,” said co-author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. “Mental resiliency can be developed through meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction practices. We can also teach people that the silver lining to adversity is an opportunity for personal growth.”

Posted in Elder Care, Human Behavior: Empathy, Human Behavior: Habits, Human Behavior: Happiness, Human Behavior: Kindness, Human Behavior: Trust, Mental Health: Depression | Leave a comment