The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. The report finds that Americans live shorter and less healthy lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries. The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be attributed solely to the adverse health status of racial or ethnic minorities or poor people: even highly advantaged Americans are in worse health than their counterparts in other, "peer" countries.
Mary Williams's insight:
The US paradox? This short video summarizes the new report from the National Academies (free to download).
"A highly contagious fungus [sic] that destroys tomato plants has quickly spread to nearly every state in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic, and the weather over the next week may determine whether the outbreak abates or whether tomato crops are ruined…" - The New York Times, 18 July 2009, J. Moskin
"You say tomato, I say agricultural disaster." - The New York Times, 9 August 2009, D. Barber
In case you missed this last week... The authors calculate the effect of "land grabbing" on water resources, and find evidence that these practices will be detrimental to those whose land is grabbed. "The per capita volume of grabbed water often exceeds the water requirements for a balanced diet and would be sufficient to improve food security and abate malnourishment in the grabbed countries."
Mary Williams's insight:
This is an important issue for everybody, and students should be aware of these practices, and their implications. There are some good references included for further reading.
Tim Radford: One man's memory odyssey reveals the astonishing potential of the human brain – and its limitations
Mary Williams's insight:
I started reading this book without any idea what to expect. First, it's not about Einstein - the title refers to an image the author uses as he's memorizing the order of cards in a deck.
The book tells the story of a young journalist who wants to learn to improve his momory, but what it's really also about how we learn and remember, and how writing (and digital information) changed how we learn and remember.
It's a fun and easy book to read, but it also has some good insights to help you be a better teacher and learner. If you've got time for a popular science book, this is a winner!
The majority of agronomically important crop traits are quantitative, meaning that they are controlled by multiple genes each with a small effect (quantitative trait loci: QTL). QTL mapping and isolation is important for efficient crop breeding by marker-assisted selection (MAS) and for a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the traits. Since it requires the development and selection of DNA markers for linkage analysis, QTL analysis has been however time consuming and labor intensive. Here we report a rapid identification of plant QTL by whole genome resequencing of DNAs from two populations each composed of 20-50 individuals showing extreme opposite trait values for a given phenotype in a segregating progeny. We propose to name this approach QTL-seq as applied to plant species. We applied QTL-seq to rice recombinant inbred lines (RILs) and F2 populations and successfully identified QTL for important agronomic traits, such as partial resistance to the fungal rice blast disease and seedling vigor. Simulation study showed that QTL-seq is able to detect QTL over wide ranges of experimental variables, and the method can be generally applied in population genomics studies to rapidly identify genomic regions that underwent artificial or natural selective sweeps.
When you look out on a golden-yellow field of oilseed rape you might not think you're seeing a battleground, but crops including oilseed rape, wheat, potato and tomato are engaged in a constant fight with pests and disease, trying to stay one step ahead.
As the world's human population looks set to increase to nine billion people by 2050, keeping plants healthy and productive is going to be essential to making sure there is enough food to go round.Aphids damage crops by feeding on them and transmitting plant diseases. "Crop pests are emerging earlier due to global warming and new variants are arriving from other countries, bringing new plant viruses", said Dr Saskia Hogenhout from the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich, an institute strategically funded by the BBSRC.
Among these pests whitefly and green peach aphids cause hundreds of millions of pounds of damage and loss to crops through transmitting viruses and feeding. Both species are notorious for demonstrating the ability to rapidly develop resistance to conventional pesticides, and both attack a wide variety of crops, including cabbage, lettuce, beet, oilseed rape and potato. In UK cereal crops aphids alone can cause yield losses of over 40 per cent, and insect pests are responsible for an estimated 15 per cent of all crop losses globally. Dr Hogenhout said: "The aphids and whitefly themselves are problematic but they also transmit more than half of all plant viruses. They're called the mosquitoes of plants because like mosquitoes they feed on the vascular system and they transmit quite a number of viruses."
"PHYA and high-irradiance responses have been considered unique to seed plants because the divergence of seed plants and cryptogams (e.g., ferns and mosses) preceded the evolution of PHYA. Seed plant phytochromes translocate into the nucleus and regulate gene expression. By contrast, there has been little evidence of a nuclear localization and function of cryptogam phytochromes. Here, we identified responses to FR light in cryptogams, which are highly reminiscent of PHYA signaling in seed plants.
Avirulence (Avr) genes of plant pathogens encode effector proteins that trigger immunity in plants carrying appropriate resistance (R) genes. The Phytophthora sojae Avr3a gene displays allelic variation in messenger RNA transcript levels. P. sojae strains with detectable Avr3a gene transcripts are avirulent on plants carrying the R-gene Rps3a, whereas strains lacking Avr3a mRNA escape detection by Rps3a and are virulent. Here we show non-Mendelian interactions between naturally occurring Avr3a alleles that result in transgenerational gene silencing, and we identify small RNA molecules of 25 nucleotides that are abundant in gene-silenced strains but not in strains with Avr3a mRNA. This example of transgenerational gene silencing is exceptional because it is naturally occurring and results in gain of virulence in a pathogenic organism.
Pyrenophora tritici-repentis is a necrotrophic fungus causal to the disease tan spot of wheat, whose contribution to crop loss has increased significantly during the last few decades. Pathogenicity by this fungus is attributed to the production of host-selective toxins (HST), which are recognized by their host in a genotype-specific manner. To better understand the mechanisms that have led to the increase in disease incidence related to this pathogen, we sequenced the genomes of three P. tritici-repentis isolates. A pathogenic isolate that produces two known HSTs was used to assemble a reference nuclear genome of approximately 40 Mb composed of 11 chromosomes that encode 12,141 predicted genes. Comparison of the reference genome with those of a pathogenic isolate that produces a third HST, and a nonpathogenic isolate, showed the nonpathogen genome to be more diverged than those of the two pathogens. Examination of gene-coding regions has provided candidate pathogen-specific proteins and revealed gene families that may play a role in a necrotrophic lifestyle. Analysis of transposable elements suggests that their presence in the genome of pathogenic isolates contributes to the creation of novel genes, effector diversification, possible horizontal gene transfer events, identified copy number variation, and the first example of transduplication by DNA transposable elements in fungi. Overall, comparative analysis of these genomes provides evidence that pathogenicity in this species arose through an influx of transposable elements, which created a genetically flexible landscape that can easily respond to environmental changes.
This study "suggests that cytokinins suppress the action of NO most likely through direct interaction between them, leading to the reduction of endogenous NO levels. These results provide insights into NO signaling and regulation of its bioactivity in plants."
The types of plants being protected, by whom and by what form of varietal right, has changed markedly since the United States first enabled intellectual property protection for plant varieties in 1930.
Intellectual property (IP) protection for plant varieties seems perpetually embroiled in policy controversy and professional debate. The United States, a hub of plant innovation with multiple types of plant IP protections, has long been at the center of the storm. As early as 1869, the objections of a writer in the Rural New Yorker captured the essential argument against such protections that persists to this day...
When plant varietal rights were first offered in the United States in 1930, the agriculture sector, including horticulture, produced $10.2 billion in output; there were 6.5 million farms in the United States, averaging 151 acres per farm. Almost 80 years later, the US agricultural economy has grown 24-fold, yet the farm sector has massively consolidated, down to 2.1 million farms, averaging 446 acres in size. Moreover, 70% of the agricultural production (by value) came from just 7% of all commercial farms in the United States in 2003.
... substantial amounts of seed are now purchased annually rather than saved and reused. Accordingly, seed and other input markets servicing US agriculture have evolved and adjusted. The scientific basis for manipulating cultivated crops has also changed radically over the past 80 years, again changing the incentives and structures of the crop-breeding, multiplication and marketing sectors.
Along with these broader market changes have come changes in US markets for IP in general, and for IP pertaining to plant varieties in particular. Here we describe the changing legislative and legal structures that directly affect plant varieties, as well as the marked changes in the crops being protected, the types of varietal rights sought and the applicants seeking them since 1930...
"The determination of structures of small RNA-bound entire eukaryotic AGO proteins is an achievement of key importance to the understanding of RNA silencing. It offers precise physicochemical explanations to many biochemical and genetic observations of AGO function, as shown here with a systematic analysis of functional consequences of ago mutations recovered in Arabidopsis genetic screens."
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