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Archive for the ‘Female Genetics’ Category

New bison to join Catalina Island herd The Log – The Log Newspaper

AVALONThe Catalina Island Conservancy has been working to expand the bison herd on the island.

Two pregnant female bison will arrive on the island in December and are expected to give birth in the spring. The new additions come from the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd and will integrate into Catalina Islands free-ranging bison herd of approximately 100.

The Conversancy said the new additions will supplement the genetic diversity of the current bison herd on Catalina Island with the valuable genetics of heritage bison.

The Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd is managed by Colorado State University, the City of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Larimer County. The herd was established with nine adult females and one male calf in November 2015. It has now grown to over 100 bison, which has made it possible to share bison with tribal and conservation herds across the country.

According to the Conservancy, the bison have valuable genetics from the Yellowstone

National Park Herd and, thanks to science implemented at CSU by Assistant Professor Jennifer

Barfield and her team, the animals are also disease-free.

We look forward to watching our animals find a new home with the herd on Catalina Island, where they can contribute to the growth of a truly unique and iconic herd, Barfield, a reproductive physiologist, said in a released statement.

Bison have freely roamed Catalina Island since 1924 when 14 bison were brought to the Island for the filming of an adaptation of a Zane Grey novel, believed to be The Vanishing American. The Conservancy said bison have played a significant role in the cultural heritage of Catalina Island and will be roaming the island far into the future.

The unique opportunity to see American bison on Catalina Island brings wildlife lovers from around the world to learn about a species they might otherwise not have a chance to see roam, said Catalina Island Conservancy President & CEO Tony Budrovich. While here, they also learn about Catalinas endemic species, special Mediterranean climate and importance of conservation.

Those wishing to see bison on the island can do so through the Conservancys Eco Tour. The Conversancy reminds everyone that bison are wild animals and people should stay at least 125 feet away from bison at all times.

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New bison to join Catalina Island herd The Log - The Log Newspaper

More bison to join island herd – The Catalina Inslader

ourtesy of Catalina Island Conservancy

Bison have played a significant role in the cultural heritage of Catalina Island for nearly 100 years and will be roaming Catalina Island far into the future. Catalina Island Conservancy is working with the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation herd to bring two pregnant female bison to Catalina Island. The new additions will arrive in early December and supplement the genetic diversity of the current bison herd on Catalina Island with the valuable genetics of heritage bison.

The herd managed by Colorado State University, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Larimer County was established with nine adult females and one male calf in November 2015. It has now grown to over 100 bison, which has made it possible to share bison with tribal and conservation herds across the country. The bison have valuable genetics from the Yellowstone National Park herd and, thanks to science implemented at CSU by Assistant Professor Jennifer Barfield and her team, the animals are also disease-free.

We are proud to continue our mission of collaborating with conservationists through this new partnership with Catalina Island Conservancy, said Barfield, a reproductive physiologist. We look forward to watching our animals find a new home with the herd on Catalina Island, where they can contribute to the growth of a truly unique and iconic herd.

Bison have freely roamed Catalina Island since 1924. Fourteen bison were brought to the island for the filming of an adaptation of a Zane Grey novel, believed to be The Vanishing American. There are currently approximately 100 bison on Catalina Island. The new animals will integrate into Catalina Islands free-ranging bison herd in December and are expected to give birth in the spring.

With goals of maintaining the health of the land and providing public benefit, Catalina Island Conservancy maintains its three-part mission of conservation, education and recreation. The bison population is a key example of this delicate balance, said Tony Budrovich, Conservancy president and CEO . The unique opportunity to see American bison on Catalina Island brings wildlife lovers from around the world to learn about a species they might otherwise not have a chance to see roam. While here, they also learn about Catalinas endemic species, special Mediterranean climate and importance of conservation.

With its location close to urban areas, Catalina provides a gateway to nature for a diverse population to experience and learn about wildlife and nature just steps away from home. The best way to view bison is through a Conservancy Eco Tour. Bison are wild animals. People should stay at least 125 feet away from bison at all times.

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More bison to join island herd - The Catalina Inslader

Woman with rare disease delivers healthy baby – The Hindu

A 24-year-old patient diagnosed with Pompe disease, a genetic fatal disorder, delivered a healthy baby at the Amrita Hospital here.

Patients with this rare condition have muscle weakness and a spectrum of severe complications, and often require long term, specialised treatments and management through Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT).

Sheela Nampoothiri, head of paediatric genetics, Amrita Hospital, said the patient had undergone the entire cycle of pregnancy to deliver a healthy baby as she had been put on the life-saving ERT under an access programme around six years ago after she was diagnosed with juvenile onset of Pompe disease.

Dr. Sheela said that this case was a testimony that patients diagnosed with rare diseases such as Pompe could lead a near-normal life if they were put on life-saving treatment early. The new-born female child, which weighed 2.8 kg at birth, did not have the defective gene and was free of Pompe disease, she said. Radhamani K., head of obstetrics and gynaecology, said that the patient was on ERT throughout her 37- week pregnancy and would continue to be on treatment in the post-natal phase too.

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Woman with rare disease delivers healthy baby - The Hindu

Working-class ants take the reins when the Indian jumping ant queen dies – Massive Science

Its this time of the year when those of us in northern temperate zones are spectators of a fascinating natural phenomenon the appearance of autumn leaf colors.

The leaves start to change colors as they age, or senesce. During this period a cluster of enzymes in the leaves start chewing up their green pigment, called chlorophyll. As the leaves become less green, their red, yellow, and orange pigments (known as anthocyanins and carotenes) begin to shine. However, exactly how chlorophyll breakdown works is still only partially understood.

While autumn leaves are a great example of chlorophyll breakdown, evergreen plants (those that remain green all year long), vegetables, and fruits also experience chlorophyll decay. However, this happens only under special conditions such when fruit ripen or when evergreen plants are deprived of nutrients and water.

Banana skin is one of the few fruits where chlorophyll degradation can be mapped under ultraviolet (UV) light. As bananas ripen, their skins lose their green color a sign of chlorophyll breakdown and form new pigments that fluoresce blue under the UV light. Scientists know that this new pigment, known as hypermodified fluorescent chlorophyll catabolite (hmFCC), is produced very briefly in most plants. Banana skins and grapevine leaves are known to produce hmFCCs for a longer period.

Recently scientists at Instituto de la Grasa, Spain analyzed devils ivy, an evergreen plant, in their quest to find signs of this fluorescent compound. They activated the aging process by starving the plant, and voila! Exposure to UV light produced the blue, fluorescent pigment hmFCC. The team also observed two other newly identified compounds that will provide more insights into the evergreen chlorophyll breakdown puzzle.

Although the actual benefit of producing this blue, fluorescent compound is still a mystery, scientists think that it could provide protection against radiation or function in communication between animals and plants.

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Working-class ants take the reins when the Indian jumping ant queen dies - Massive Science

City of Hope leads novel clinical trial to treat cancer patients with COVID-19 – The Cancer Letter

publication date: Oct. 9, 2020

In a new clinical trial, City of Hope is investigating a treatment for cancer patients with COVID-19 by repurposing leflunomide, an anti-inflammatory drug for rheumatoid arthritis, which is inexpensive and has few serious side effects.

Patients treated for cancer in the past two years may also be eligible.

FDA has recently approved the start of a phase I trial. At a later date, a phase II randomized clinical trial may take place if the first trial finds leflunomide to be safe and tolerable for these patients. City of Hope plans to work with other local medical centers who are treating cancer patients for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to enroll them in the trial.

There are currently few effective drugs against COVID-19, and our clinical trial targets a critical high-risk group cancer patients whose immune systems are already weak, Steven T. Rosen, City of Hope provost and chief scientific officer, and the Irell & Manella Cancer Center Directors Distinguished Chair and Morgan & Helen Chu Directors Chair of the Beckman Research Institute, said in a statement. Our hope is that leflunomide will eradicate COVID-19 in cancer patients, providing the medical community with an effective therapy against this devastating virus.

Sanjeet Dadwal, City of Hope chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, is the principal investigator on the trial.

For the phase I trial, all patients will receive leflunomide and may also be able to simultaneously receive other standard of care treatments for COVID-19. They may receive remdesivir, an antiviral therapy. Patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome may receive the steroid, dexamethasone, and patients with complications of COVID-19 such as cytokine release syndrome, which can lead to multiple organ failure, can receive the antibody tocilizumab.

If the phase I trial is found to be a safe and tolerable treatment, then a phase II randomized, double-blind trial will open at a later date. About half the patients will receive leflunomide with standard of care therapies to treat COVID-19, and the other half will receive a placebo and standard of care drugs as well.

Leflunomide is an oral and generic anti-inflammatory drug approved by FDA to safely treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The therapy has also been used in cancer patients with cytomegalovirus with tolerable side effects.

Laboratory experiments performed at City of Hope and Wuhan, China, indicate that leflunomide has high potential to shut down viral replication by preventing the synthesis of viral RNA, the genetic material. It also downregulates the expression of ACE 2, a receptor for COVID-19 cell entry. A small clinical trial using leflunomide in China also demonstrated the therapy has potential antiviral drug against COVID-19.

In a phase I clinical study, City of Hope treated patients with advanced multiple myeloma with leflunomide. The therapy stabilized their disease with tolerable side effects.

NCI has funded the trial with a P30 grant supplement for COVID-19 research projects. City of Hope is one of a few cancer centers that has received such funding during the pandemic.

City of Hope also received funding from private donors, including The Elias, Genevieve and Georgianna Atol Charitable Trust and The Norman and Sadie Lee Foundation.

Novel CAR T-cell lymphoma therapy developed at MCW advances to phase II study

A novel cancer therapy studied and developed at the Medical College of Wisconsin with promising clinical outcomes is leading to a larger phase II trial to improve on the current standard of care.

Results of phase I of the first-in-the-world double targeted CAR T-cell therapy clinical trial were published in Nature Medicine.

This is a novel, cell-based treatment against cancer targeting two proteins (antigens CD19 and CD20) on the surface of cancer cells. This CAR T-cell therapy trial began in October 2017 and resulted in safe and promising outcomes for patients with relapsed and refractory B cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas which are cancers of the immune system.

MCW researchers collected patient T cells and then used a specially engineered virus to augment their ability to identify and kill cancerous cells and effectively destroy the lymphoma. While phase I focused on safety and feasibility of the treatment, a multi-institutional phase II is being developed to determine the true efficacy and understand how the nuances of the treatment process can result in excellent outcomes for a larger subset of patients.

All patients in the clinical trial had failed prior treatments and their cancer had relapsed. Within 28 days of the CAR-T cell therapy, 82 percent responded positively. Six months later, more than half of the patients cancer remained in remission. A higher dose of the treatment correlated with a prolonged remission, a trend the researchers plan to study further in the trials second phase.

The new treatment genetically alters a persons own immune cells to target cancer cells in a unique and personalized fashion, a significant departure from more routine chemotherapy.

The cell product used for treatment was manufactured using the CliniMACS Prodigy device, which is part of an automated CAR T cell manufacturing platform developed by Miltenyi Biotec.

Housed at the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center, the CliniMACS Prodigy device enabled the research team to conduct the CAR T-cell immunotherapy through a self-contained, desktop system, producing new cells ready to be infused back into a patients bloodstream within 14 days. With the device, the entire process was performed locally at Froedtert Hospital.

This research was made possible through philanthropic dollars raised by the Childrens Wisconsin Foundation and the MACC Fund and their support of the Cell Therapy Lab at MCW.

MD Anderson researchers identify characteristics of infused CAR T cells associated with efficacy and toxicity in large B-cell lymphoma

Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center have identified molecular and cellular characteristics of anti-CD19 CAR T cell infusion products associated with how patients with large B-cell lymphoma respond to treatment and develop side effects.

The research team also found that early changes in circulating tumor DNA one week after CAR T cell therapy may be predictive of treatment response in a particular patient. The paper was published online in Nature Medicine.

CAR T cell therapy is highly effective against LBCL, corresponding author Michael Green, associate professor of lymphoma and myeloma, said in a statement. However, we experience two main clinical challenges: achieving long-term remission and managing treatment-associated adverse events.

This study suggests that, within the first week of therapy, clinicians may be able to identify a subset of patients who may experience more poor outcomes or adverse treatment reactions, said Green. This would allow the care team to adjust therapy to improve efficacy or to act to mitigate toxicity.

For this study, researchers performed single-cell analysis on CAR T cells to study gene expression profiles in the infused cells. CAR T cells were collected from those remaining in infusion bags following treatment of 24 patients with LBCL. These genetic profiles were compared to treatment responses, determined at three months post-infusion by PET/CT scan.

When we look at the characteristics of the infused CAR T cells, we found that samples from patients who were less responsive to treatment had exhausted T cells, whereas those who experienced complete responses had T cells expressing memory signatures, co-corresponding author Sattva Neelapu, professor of lymphoma and myeloma, said in a statement. Additionally, one cellular signature of T cell exhaustion was more commonly found in patients who exhibited a poor molecular response, and poor molecular response is generally associated with less-positive, long-term outcomes.

Further, the researchers analyzed early molecular responses in the patients by monitoring changes in circulating tumor DNA from treatment to one week post-infusion. The magnitude of change in tumor-associated DNA corresponded with response, suggesting that patients who displayed an early molecular response were more likely to experience a clinical response to treatment.

When we examined the infusion product, we found that a cell population with characteristics similar to myeloid cells, with a monocyte-like transcriptional signature, was associated with development of high-grade neurotoxicity, Green said. Detecting these cells may subsequently lead us to identify patients who would be at higher risk of developing neurotoxicity, allowing us to provide prophylactic treatment with agents that target the specific cellular features.

Further examination may lead to insights into the types and attributes of the cells present within the CAR T infusion product.

This study also tells us that some rare and unexpected cells identified by single-cell analysis could be biologically important, said co-corresponding author Linghua Wang, assistant professor of Genomic Medicine. Going forward, we plan to functionally characterize these monocyte-like cells to better understand their specific biological mechanisms driving these clinical results.

These findings will help researchers develop clinical interventions that can block or target these cells. They also plan to validate the capacity of circulating tumor DNA to accurately predict patients long-term outcomes.

This research was supported in part by the B-cell Lymphoma Moon Shot, part of MD Andersons Moon Shots Program. With support from the Moon Shot and the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas, the research team plans to utilize PDX models of disease that relapsed following anti-CD19 CAR T cell therapy to preclinically test interventions that could lead to better treatment responses or to prevention of adverse side effects.

Other research support came from the Schweitzer Family Fund, NCI (P30 CA016672) and start-up research funds from MD Anderson. A full list of co-authors and their disclosures can be found here.

MD Anderson researchers: Cancer mutations accumulate in distinct regions based on structure of genome and mutational causes

A study from researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center indicates that mutations found in cancers do not accumulate randomly, but are found in distinct patterns that vary based on the three-dimensional organization of the genome in the cell as well as the underlying factors causing the mutations.

Mutations caused by external factors, such as ultraviolet light or tobacco smoke, led to mutations in different regions than internal factors, such as defects in DNA damage repair or proofreading machinery. The findings, published in Nature Genetics, are important for understanding what factors may be driving mutations in a given cancer and may point to new therapeutic targets.

DNA is not randomly organized within the nucleus, and we found that this structure is strongly correlated with how cancer cells accumulate mutations, lead author Kadir Akdemir, instructor of genomic medicine, said in a statement. We know there are certain processes causing mutations in cancer cells, but we dont always understand the underlying causes. These findings should give us a clue as to how cancer accumulates mutations, and perhaps we can target and kill cancer cells by leveraging the mutations they accumulate.

Within the nucleus of the cell, DNA is packaged with proteins into chromatin, a highly organized and compacted structure that makes up our chromosomes. Within this structure, genes that are frequently used in the cells are organized together in active domains, which are more readily accessible. Those genes used less often are similarly organized together in inactive domains.

The researchers analyzed whether mutations are distributed more frequently in these active or inactive domains in cancer by studying publicly available whole-genome sequencing data of 3,000 paired samples of normal tissue and tumor tissue across 42 cancer types.

Across every cancer type studied, the inactive domains carried significantly more mutations than the active domains, suggesting that the accumulation of mutations is strongly correlated with the three-dimensional organization of the genome.

As a validation of these findings, the researchers looked specifically at the X chromosome in male and female patients. In females, one of their two X chromosomes is inactivated, so it is essentially itself an inactive domain. When comparing the X chromosome between sexes, females had more mutations than males with a marked distribution difference, largely driven by an abundance of mutations on the inactive chromosome.

Knowing that mutations can be caused by a variety of distinct processes, the researchers also investigated whether external environmental factors resulted in different mutation patterns compared to those caused by internal factors in the cell.

Interestingly, we found that different causes of mutations resulted in distinct accumulation patterns within the cell, senior author Andy Futreal, chair of genomic medicine, said in a statement. Extrinsic factors were associated with an enrichment of mutations in inactive domains, whereas intrinsic factors were correlated with enriched mutations in active domains. This provides us an important foundation going forward to understand the root of cancer mutations when we dont otherwise know the cause.

Knowing the causes and distributions of cancer-related mutations may open up potential therapeutic options, explained Akdemir, such as targeted therapies against a specific signaling pathway or combinations with immunotherapy.

For example, immunotherapy may be able to better recognize a cancer cell if more mutations are present. However, if mutations occur primarily in inactive domains, they would rarely be seen by the immune system. Therapeutic agents that restore activity to these domains, used in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors, could stimulate a stronger anti-tumor immune response.

This research was supported by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (R1205), The Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry, and NIH (P50CA127001, DP5OD023071, Z1AES103266). A full list of authors and their disclosures can be found with the full paper here.

UCSD study: Personalized cancer therapy improves outcomes in advanced disease

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that patients receiving care for advanced cancer at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health were more likely to survive or experience a longer period without their disease progressing if they received personalized cancer therapy.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

Led by Razelle Kurzrock, director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at Moores Cancer Center and senior author of the study, a multidisciplinary molecular tumor board was established to advise treating physicians on course of care using an individual patients molecular tumor makeup to design precision medicine strategies.

Patients who underwent a molecular tumor board-recommended therapy were better matched to genomic alterations in their cancer and had improved outcomes, Kurzrock said in a statement. The three-year survival for patients with the highest degree of matching and who received a personalized cancer therapy was approximately 55% compared to 25% in patients who received therapy that was unmatched or had low degrees of matching.

Of 429 patients evaluated by the molecular tumor board, 62% were matched to at least one drug. Twenty percent of patients matched to all recommended drugs, including combination therapies.

The tumor board acted in an advisory role and treating physicians chose not to use the boards recommended strategy in 38% of cases, opting instead for a standard therapy approach that might have been unmatched to the patients genetic alterations or had a low degree of matching. These patients experienced a lower progression-free survival and overall survival rates.

The use of next-generation sequencing allows for the identification of novel potential targets for patients with cancer to improve outcomes, but there are challenges to using this approach widely, said Shumei Kato, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and first author.

One of the hurdles is that every cancer patient appears to be carrying different molecular and genomic patterns despite having the same cancer type, Kato, a Moores Cancer Center medical oncologist specializing in rare and gastrointestinal cancers, said in a statement. This can be challenging since we are customizing therapy based on the unique genomic pattern patients have, and thus it is difficult to predict the response. In addition, this approach requires multidisciplinary expertise as well as access to drugs or clinical trials not always available in smaller practices.

At Moores Cancer Center, the molecular tumor board is composed of experts in basic, transitional and clinical research as well as bioinformatics, genetics, radiology, pathology and physicians in multiple specialties such as medical, surgical and radiation oncology.

This research was funded, in part, by NIH (P30 CA023100) and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund.

Phase III CheckMate-816 trial: Opdivo + chemotherapy demonstrates improvement in pathologic CR in resectable NSCLC

The phase III CheckMate-816 trial met a primary endpoint of pathologic complete response in resectable non-small cell lung cancer.

In the trial, significantly more patients treated with Opdivo (nivolumab) plus chemotherapy before surgery showed no evidence of cancer cells in their resected tissue compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone. CheckMate-816 is the first and only phase III trial to demonstrate a benefit with an immune checkpoint inhibitor in combination with chemotherapy as a neoadjuvant treatment in non-metastatic NSCLC.

Opdivo is sponsored by Bristol Myers Squibb.

Patients in the experimental arm of the trial received up to three doses of Opdivo plus chemotherapy prior to surgery, a standard number of cycles of therapy in the neoadjuvant setting. The safety profile of Opdivo plus chemotherapy was consistent with previously reported studies in NSCLC.

Nivolumab has shown benefit as an adjuvant, or post-surgical, treatment option in other cancer types, and the positive results from CheckMate -816 speak to its potential in the neoadjuvant setting of resectable non-small cell lung cancer, Mark Awad, clinical director of Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a statement.

The CheckMate-816 trial is ongoing to assess the other primary endpoint of event-free survival, to which the company remains blinded, as well as key secondary endpoints.

In non-metastatic NSCLC, Bristol Myers Squibb and collaborators are exploring the use of immunotherapy in the neoadjuvant, adjuvant and peri-operative settings, as well as in association with chemoradiation. To date, Opdivo has shown improved efficacy in the neoadjuvant or adjuvant treatment of four tumor types: lung cancer, bladder cancer, esophageal/gastroesophageal junction cancer and melanoma.

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City of Hope leads novel clinical trial to treat cancer patients with COVID-19 - The Cancer Letter

Andrew Gammie’s Westpit Limousin herd makes its mark – The Scottish Farmer

Breeding the best in any type of livestock whether it be pedigree or commercial, sheep or cattle, requires a huge amount of determination, dedication and drive key features that come naturally to Laurencekirk-based Limousin breeder, Andrew Gammie and his wife Kathryn.

Passionate about the commercial, near dual purpose attributes of this beefy bovine, Andrew believes the Limousin is the breed for the future, when it can be finished in quicker period of time and to the desired weights demanded by the supermarkets with some of the highest killing out percentages.

Add to that the growing demand for young Limousin bull beef and he said producers are onto a winner when finishing such cattle not only bolsters end margins but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Limousins are a great long-term option for the future because the females are so easy to keep and they produce fast growing calves that can either be sold for breeding or finishing, Andrew said.

An increasing number of butchers are now also looking for young bull beef too which is great for the breed as it adds another outlet. I can sell 13-14-month-old young bulls for 1400 at Carlisle and theyre all going for beef.

Andrew and Kathryn Gammie and young Finlay from Drumforber, Laurencekirk

It was Andrews grand-father George and father Jim Gammie, who established the Westpit pedigree Limousin herd at Drumforber in the early 1970s. At that time, the 480-acre unit was mostly home to 200 commercial cows, with an additional 1000 head of finishing cattle bought in every year for finishing off home-grown feeds.

It wasnt until Andrew returned home to farm in 2000 that he looked take the Limousin herd further.

Limousins have always appealed to me because we were brought up with them and because of their ease of management it doesnt cost anymore to keep a pedigree Limousin than a commercial cow, and breed the right ones, and the progeny can be worth so much more, he said.

Its a philosophy which is working a treat for team Gammie too as since Jim and Andrew bought 16 maiden heifers privately from Ian Nattress Greenwell herd in 2009, the Westpit herd has gone from strength to strength.

Most of these purchases were daughters of the French sires, Tanin and Vagabond, with one of the first bulls born, Westpit Fendt, selling for a colossal 15,500gns at Carlisle. He was bred from Greenwell Delight, which was served to Vagabond as a luckpenny before heading north to Drumforber.

It has nevertheless been the purchase of the 5800gns Brockhurst Holy, a Wilodge Vantastic daughter bought at Newark in 2015, that has bred the best to date for the herd.

Typical big stretchy cows and calves - just the type Andrew looks to breed

A daughter of the Grahams Samson show cow, Brockhurst Bolshoi, Holy has bred well in excess of 100,000 worth of bull sales. These include the 18,000gns Westpit Lowry sold at Carlisle to the Maraiscote herd; Westpit Nando, which was purchased privately by the Ronick herd for an undisclosed five-figure price and Westpit Omaha sold to Haltcliffe herd at last year's Royal Highland Show, again for an undisclosed sum.

Other notably bull sales from this top show winning female line include the two full brothers, Westpit Nevada and Westpit Nashville Dinmore Immense sons that sold at Carlisle in February 2019, for 14,000gns and 13,000gns. This years event also saw, Westpit Orlando, by Goldies Jackpot, sell for 12,000gns.

Ive always looked to breed big powerful easy fleshed square females, said Andrew who travelled down to Newark with his father specifically to buy Holy when she was bred from the show winning Brockhurst Bolshoi

I do like muscle but Im not a fan of double muscled females. I prefer to breed good big cows and then find a bull to suit them.

While foundation females from the Greenwell, Dinmore and Brockhurst herds have undoubtedly made their mark, the home-bred females now coming through, are also making their presence felt with Westpit Landlord, the first son of Jalex Itsallgood, a bull bought privately at the Highland Show, out of Westpit Finella, making 17,000gns in 2016.

Two years later, Westpit Macgregor, an AI son of Ampertaine Gigolo, bred from Westpit Florence realised 15,000gns and, at Carlisle in February, this year, Westpit Oklahoma, another by Itsallgood, out of Westpit Julie, made 13,000gns.

Westpit Julie one of the best breeding cows in the herd

Other top breeding bulls include Netherhall Double O Seven, purchased for 20,000gns which in turn has bred sons and daughters to 13,000gns and 10,000gns respectively.

Not afraid of modern technology either, Andrew has also exploited the herds genetic potential by introducing In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP), a cost effective and welfare friendly service from AB Europe.

This IVP process produces embryos from collected oocytes (unfertilised eggs) which are fertilised within a petri dish by selected semen, and subsequently cultured for seven days until fully developed embryos can be transferred or frozen.

A relatively new technique within the UK for producing embryos, it outcompetes MOET for its flexibility and multiple benefits to breeders and their donor animals, according to AB Europes vet Gavin Tait.

AB Europe currently offers two distinct IVP donor programmes dependent on the individual animal requirement and/or farmers preference, said Gavin.

The first programme is our non-stimulated system, where IVP donors are not subjected to any hormonal drugs or synchronisation prior to the collection of oocytes, which accordingly makes it the simpler, cheaper and less labour-intensive option.

The second is our stimulated system, which requires four injections prior to collection. Stimulation leads to a boost in oocyte quality on a given week sometimes it can improve number of oocytes too, however collection can only be done every fortnight and requires additional handling of the donor animal.

Jim and Andrew have seen huge success with the breeding system too.

Westpit Lioness, strength, depth, size, frame and femininity typical characteristics found in all the cattle

I could have continued to naturally expand the herd, however I became aware of In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP) as an alternative to MOET which has in fact put Westpit on the map, said Andrew.

IVP was preferred to MOET because no stimulation is required and the AB Europe team arrive on the farm to collect, whereas MOET requires multiple injections along with accompanying time, effort and cost.

Brockhurst Holy was the first female to undergo IVP, primarily as an insurance policy. We achieved 20 calves, including 18 bulls of which 16 sold to pedigree herds. Theyve also collected the silverware at both society shows and sales.

One of Holys IVP collections gave one heifer and four bulls which sold to average 12,000gns and they have secured both champion and reserve championships at 2019 Stars of the Future.

Last year AB Europe introduced IVP coasting featuring a programme with minimal stimulation. We achieved a better response in terms of embryos per collection, and it was much less invasive than MOET.

Andrew added: IVP and IVP coasting are enabling me to buy the best genetics I can. I select semen, anything from 50 to 1000 per straw to improve the herds genetic base selected for certain EBVs, according to accuracy, proven damline, breeding and showring success. One straw of semen can now cover up to five donors too.

AB Europe lines up an annual IVP programme with up to 10 cows; 2020 features five cows. Following collection, embryos are stored and implanted in commercial recipient cows and scheduled spring and autumn calving.

This years programme also features three, 12-month-old heifers. As long as they are cycling the process makes for a quicker turn around, speeding up genetic progress as well as spreading semen costs.

This year, we collected from one of Holys 12-month-old daughters, again as an insurance policy and a Sarkley heifer purchased from the Red Ladies sale of a similar age.

New to the herd from the Sarkley and Dinmore herds

Earlier this year we collected from 11 cows over two on-farm collections which resulted in 47 embryos. These fresh embryos went on to hold at around 70%, Andrew said, adding: If I have just one or two cows for collection, then Im finding its more cost effective to introduce them to AB Europes livery run by the companys vet, Gavin Tait on his farm in the Borders. It offers a safe and convenient environment. Communications are key for us farmers, and the team keeps us informed as to whats going on.

Its just as well too as with young Finlay fast approaching four years of age and Kathryn about to give birth to twins, Andrew is going to have his hands fuller than normal pretty soon. Add to that being elected on to the British Limousin Cattle Society Council as Scottish representative, and he's going to be busier than ever.

He does nevertheless have every confidence in the Limousin and the breeds potential to increase market share.

We have a fantastic product in the Limousin. What we need now is to get back to basics and create a level playing field for all members with increased communication to all members.

"With more promotion and support for all members, I am convinced the Limousin is the breed of the future, concluded Andrew.

Big, uniform, breedie cattle that are undoubtedly paying their way at Drumforber


Farm business: Jim and Kate Gammie, son Andrew and his wife Kathryn

Livestock: 35 cow pedigree Westpit herd and 65 commercial breeding cows

Breeding policy: In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP) which has increased the genetic gain of the herd while also maximising potential sale returns.

Herd goal: Increase pedigree cow numbers at expense of commercial females with the introduction of Fleckviehs and Simmentals as recipient heifers.

Acreage: 100 acres grass and 380 acres spring barley

ONTHE spot

Biggest achievement? Establishing the herd, building it up to where it is today and selling bulls in to pedigree herds

Best investment? Brockhurst Holy a once in a lifetime cow

Where do you want to be in 2030? Hopefully building a successful business for the future generation and out of lockdown!

Best advice? Never stop learning and dont be afraid to ask questions

Biggest gripe? Kathryn says spending money!

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Andrew Gammie's Westpit Limousin herd makes its mark - The Scottish Farmer

Everything About Hair Loss & DHT – The Ritz Herald

Are you apprehensive about too much hair in your comb and shower, leading to a reduced hair volume and baldness? Does thinning of hair run in your family? Is hair loss a big concern for you? Is it messing with your confidence?

Then you are at the right spot. This article goes in-depth and discusses some key concepts linked to hair loss and technique to prevent it.

The Hair Growth Cycle

In order to achieve the desired hair length, some people either trim their hair regularly or leave them out to grow. Regardless, the hair growth cycle remains undisputed.

Your hair consists of a hair follicle and shaft. Present underneath the scalp, the hair follicle provides anchorage to the hair into the scalp. The hair shaft is the strand of hair made up of proteins. There are three phases of the hair growth cycle.

1. The Anagen Phase

The first phase is called the Anagen phase and corresponds to the growth period. During this phase, rapid cell division occurs in the hair follicles bulb, resulting in the growth of the hair strand. The hair length increases at the roots, with active growth for 2 to 7 years before the dormant period of the hair follicle is reached. During this period, the hair strand can lengthen from 18 to 30 inches long. The final length of the hair varies from individual to individual depending upon their genetic makeup, health, age, and other factors.

2. The Catagen Phase

The Catagen phase in the hair growth cycle is short and lasts for about 2 to 3 weeks. This is the transitional period during which the growth of hair stops, and it gets disconnected from the blood supply. This type of hair is called a club hair.

3. The Telogen Phase

The final stage of hair growth, the Telogen Phase, starts with a resting period and lasts for about 2 months. During this period, the club hair is in the resting phase, and new hair starts to grow beneath it.

Subsequently, the resting club hair falls out, letting the new hair strand to emerge from the scalp. This falling of hair is natural, usually doesnt get noticed, and thus shouldnt be alarming. The typical rate of hair shedding per day is 50 to 100 strands. Every hair strand undergoes the growth phase separately at different timings; thus, you wont notice hair loss in patches simultaneously.

What Is DHT?

Androgenic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern baldness, is a widespread cause behind male and female hair thinning. Although highly prevalent in women, it is more common in men. On average, around 30 million women and 50 million men in the U.S. suffer from this condition.

The phenomenon of alopecia is aggravated by the activity of sex hormones in the body, thereby called androgenic alopecia. One of the androgens responsible for this mechanism is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which brings about the development of male sex characteristics.

How Is DHT Produced In The Body?

DHT is produced in your body as a byproduct of the sex hormone, testosterone. 5-Reductase is the enzyme that breaks down about 10% of testosterone into DHT in tissues, including skin, prostate, liver, and hair follicles. While DHT results in body hair growth, it interestingly leads to loss of scalp hair faster and earlier in life. Consequently, blocking this androgen is what makes hair loss therapies effective in preventing hair fall.

How Does DHT Impact The Hair Follicles And Cause Miniaturization?

Researchhas shown that hair follicle miniaturization is the conversion of hair from terminal to vellus type. This process occurs at the follicular level when anagen to telogen ratio reduces, thereby increasing hair loss. It means that the anagen (growth) phases duration is reduced while the telogen phase is prolonged.

Male or female pattern hair loss occurs due to the shortening of the growth phase, which takes place with the miniaturization of the follicles. This signifies that hair cannot grow as long as it would have otherwise grown.

The anagen phase gradually narrows down so much that the new hair does not emerge from the scalp. Telogen hair type is poorly anchored in the scalp, allowing it to fall out easily.

The small-sized follicles lead to thinner hair shafts with each growth cycle. The hair eventually becomes vellus type soft and light hair type present on an infants body.

How Is DHT Blocked To Prevent Hair Loss?

Fortunately, the action of DHT can be blocked by compounds known as DHT blockers. DHT-blocking products include shampoos and oils containing DHT-blocking ingredients like biotin, saw palmetto, ketoconazole, etc. These agents decrease the production of the Alpha-5 Reductase enzyme, which then inhibits the formation of DHT. A combination of these active ingredients in shampoos and oils works by reducing the excess amount of DHT. Thus, it produces a favorable environment for hair growth.

Finasteride (generic name: Propecia) is also a proven DHT blocker. It is a prescription tablet that works well in preventing hair loss and receding hairlines. Finasteride binds to the 5-Reductase enzyme, leading to the inhibition of DHT production.

Using DHT-Blockers To Prevent Hair Loss

The phenomena of hair thinning in males and females occur due to numerous reasons, including underlying health conditions. However, genetics is the most significant factor in male and female pattern hair loss. DHT is another crucial player in causing male or female pattern baldness and must be blocked by using products containing proven DHT-blockers. For example, Hair Restoration Laboratories has a Hair Restore line of products that utilized what the company calls its DHT Halting Technology. Its lineup of shampoos, conditioner and serums contain a boatload of ingredients, such as saw palmetto, caffeine, green tea extract, pumpkin seed oil, and others that are clinically proven to help block DHT when applied topically. By helping to block DHT from attacking your hair follicles, male and female pattern hair loss can be prevented and your follicles can grow new and thicker hair.

In sum, if you wish to halt the progression of alopecia, you need to address and counter that adverse impact of DHT. If not kept in check, androgen alopecia will continue to progress and become worse with time.


1. Ellis K. Hair growth cycle The 3 stages explained. The Hair Lab. (2018).

2. Anonymous. (August 2020). Androgenetic alopecia. Genetics Home Reference.

3. Jewell T. What You Need to Know About DHT and Hair Loss. (January 2019). Healthline.

4. Levy B. DHT and Male Hair Loss Explained. Hims. (September 2017).

5. Ravi A. The Best DHT Blockers & How They Can Combat Hair Loss. (July 2020).

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Everything About Hair Loss & DHT - The Ritz Herald

Sexcel The basis of a new plan! – Farming Life

Philip Patterson who is responsible for the day to day management of the herd with herdsman, Scott Cromwell, right

In recent years Philip Patterson has been responsible for the day to day running of the milking herd - he has always been keen to try new and innovative ways to manage the herd.

The 300 strong herd of Holsteins have been AI bred for the last four years using a mixture of proven and genomic sires from Genus ABS. Philip has taken the breeding policy a step further during the last 18 months, moving to a full Sexcel and beef strategy and employing a new herdsman to assist with the breeding of the cows, Scott Cromwell.

Sexcel is the name given to Genus ABSs proprietary technology for sexing bovine semen. This innovative technology does not subject the cells to the high pressures, electric currents and shear forces used to produce the sexed semen historically available to farmers. The result has been a superior sexed genetics product that has helped customers maximize their profitability in line with their individual economic herd goals.

Genus ABS have concentrated on developing a product with superior fertility. Data from UK RMS herds, based on 169,693 inseminations, has shown that the Relative Conception Rate (RCR) on maiden heifers is 92% and the improved performance from Sexcel is reaching as high as 94% in 3rd lactation cows. This data set has also shown that Sexcel has delivered up to a 92% skew rate, thats 92 female calves in every 100 born. So more pregnancies per service as well as more females per calving with Sexcel over any other sexed product.

Philip commented: I was keen to try Sexcel to minimise the number of low value Holstein bull calves using the very latest technology available. I started using it in February 2019 and have been extremely pleased with the results. The conception rates have been similar to what we were achieving with conventional semen.

Although the beef income will be important, the British Blue sires are selected to ensure that the cows calve down successfully and start milking well, so particular attention is paid to calving ease when selecting beef bulls.

Gareth Bell, Genus ABS, who works closely with Phillip said: We are aiming to create cows that are well balanced with a willingness to produce high volumes of milk. PLI is followed closely and with Genus having 20 of the top 30 PLI sires, there are lots of options when it comes to choosing sires that will leave more profit in the herd.

The Pattersons herd also uses Genus ABS to help with the day to day management of the herd, through the ABS Partner programme. Action lists are created on a weekly basis to aid with dry offs and also any fertility work carried out. These reports are then used by Scott to monitor the herds reproductive performance and highlight any areas that need attention.

The management reports have helped us become more structured in our approach to fertility. We can see the benefits of the improvements we have made, including increasing the herds overall conception rate and reducing the calving interval, said Scott.

For more information on Sexcel or other Genus ABS products please contact your local Genus ABS representative or the office on 028 38 334426.

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Sexcel The basis of a new plan! - Farming Life

Scientists use 16 genes to distinguish between two types of lethal pancreatic cancer – Massive Science

Its this time of the year when those of us in northern temperate zones are spectators of a fascinating natural phenomenon the appearance of autumn leaf colors.

The leaves start to change colors as they age, or senesce. During this period a cluster of enzymes in the leaves start chewing up their green pigment, called chlorophyll. As the leaves become less green, their red, yellow, and orange pigments (known as anthocyanins and carotenes) begin to shine. However, exactly how chlorophyll breakdown works is still only partially understood.

While autumn leaves are a great example of chlorophyll breakdown, evergreen plants (those that remain green all year long), vegetables, and fruits also experience chlorophyll decay. However, this happens only under special conditions such when fruit ripen or when evergreen plants are deprived of nutrients and water.

Banana skin is one of the few fruits where chlorophyll degradation can be mapped under ultraviolet (UV) light. As bananas ripen, their skins lose their green color a sign of chlorophyll breakdown and form new pigments that fluoresce blue under the UV light. Scientists know that this new pigment, known as hypermodified fluorescent chlorophyll catabolite (hmFCC), is produced very briefly in most plants. Banana skins and grapevine leaves are known to produce hmFCCs for a longer period.

Recently scientists at Instituto de la Grasa, Spain analyzed devils ivy, an evergreen plant, in their quest to find signs of this fluorescent compound. They activated the aging process by starving the plant, and voila! Exposure to UV light produced the blue, fluorescent pigment hmFCC. The team also observed two other newly identified compounds that will provide more insights into the evergreen chlorophyll breakdown puzzle.

Although the actual benefit of producing this blue, fluorescent compound is still a mystery, scientists think that it could provide protection against radiation or function in communication between animals and plants.

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Scientists use 16 genes to distinguish between two types of lethal pancreatic cancer - Massive Science

We Discovered a Missing Gene Fragment Thats Shedding New Light on How Males Develop – Gizmodo Australia

Its one of the most important genes in biology: Sry, the gene that makes males male. Development of the sexes is a crucial step in sexual reproduction and is essential for the survival of almost all animal species.

Today in the journal Science, my international collaborators and I report the surprise discovery of an entirely new part of the Sry gene in mice a part we had no idea existed.

I co-discovered Sry in 1990. It is the gene on the Y (male) chromosome that leads to the development of male characteristics in mice, humans and most other mammals. Since then, Sry has been the subject of intense study worldwide because of its fundamental role in mammalian biology.

We have come to understand, in some detail, how Sry acts to trigger a cascade of gene activity that results in the formation of testes, instead of ovaries, in the embryo. Testes then stimulate the formation of other male characteristics.

But its clear we dont have all the answers just yet. Our results published today take us one step further in the right direction.

For 30 years, we have understood the Sry gene is made up of one exon, a segment of a gene used to code for amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. This can be compared to a computer file consisting of one contiguous block of data, on a hard disk.

Our newest research reveals theres actually a second exon in mouse Sry. This is like finding a whole new separate block of previously hidden data.

The mouse genome, like the human genome, has been extensively characterised due to the availability of advanced DNA sequencing and related technologies. Researchers commonly assume all the genes and all the parts of the genes have already been discovered.

But earlier this year, scientists in Japan uncovered what looked like a new piece of the Sry gene in mice. New sequencing approaches revealed what appeared to be two versions of Sry: a short, single-exon form and a longer, two-exon form. They called this two-exon version Sry-T.

They collaborated with my group at the University of Queensland and removed the new exon using CRISPR, a gene editing tool that lets researchers alter DNA precisely. Together we discovered this prevented Sry from functioning: XY mice (which would normally develop as males) developed as females instead.

Conversely, adding Sry-T to fertilised XX mouse eggs (which would normally develop as females) resulted in males.

On the left, an XY mouse lacking Sry-T that developed as female. On the right, an XX mouse carrying the Sry-T gene that developed as male. Makoto Tachibana, Osaka University, Author provided

Importantly, although human Sry does not have the added exon, our discovery may reveal new functions that might be shared between mouse and human Sry.

The DNA sequence of the new exon in Sry-T may point us towards discovering some of the genes and proteins that interact with Sry, something that has been elusive up till now.

And interactions we find in mice may also occur in humans. Studying what human Sry interacts with may help explain some cases of differences in human sex development, otherwise known as intersex development. This is a common but poorly understood group of mostly genetic conditions that arise in humans.

Intersex refers to people who are born with genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics that are not typically male or female. Shutterstock

Currently, we dont know the genetics behind a large proportion of intersex conditions. This is partly because we dont yet know all the genes involved in the human sex development pathway.

Scientifically, this discovery is a bit like discovering a new cell type in the body, or a new asteroid in the Kuiper belt. As with many scientific discoveries, it challenges what we thought we knew and raises many questions.

What is the function of the new exon in Sry-T?

Currently, we only have part of the answer. It turns out the first exon of Sry, the one we already knew about, contains instability sequences at its end. These are sequences that cause proteins to fray and degrade.

An important function of the newly discovered second exon is to mask the instability sequences, seal the end of the Sry protein and prevent it from degrading. In other words, this second exon is crucial to the development of male babies.

Whats more, this protection mechanism represents an unusual and intriguing evolutionary mechanism that has acted to help stop vulnerable Y-chromosome genes from literally falling apart.

But its early days yet. The challenge now is to understand whether there are more functions hidden within the newly discovered exon.

If so, this information may provide some of the missing links that have stood in the way of our full understanding of how Sry works at a molecular level and of how males and females come to be.

Peter Koopman, Professorial Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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We Discovered a Missing Gene Fragment Thats Shedding New Light on How Males Develop - Gizmodo Australia

Lactose tolerance spread through Europe faster than previously thought – Massive Science

Just as scientists are rapidly learning how SARS-CoV-2 affects humans, they are also quickly working to understand how it affects other animals. House cats, tigers, golden hamsters, and rhesus monkeys are all susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. And while avian species such as duck and chicken are not, dogs, pigs, and ferrets have shown intermediate susceptibility.

The critical entry point for the virus into our cells is a protein called ACE2, which bonds withthe spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.Animals and humans both expressing ACE2 in their cells, so scientists have been wondering why different species have different SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility, and if it is possible to predict which animals might be at risk.

In a preprint posted on bioRxiv in July, researchers at Vanderbilt Universityapproached this question by comparing the amino acid sequence of ACE2 from different animal species. Amino acids are compounds that combine to form proteins. Inside cells, this amino acid chain folds into a three-dimensional shape. And as a result, some amino acids become hidden, and others exposed. Exposed ACE2 amino acids are of great interest because they determine whether SARS-CoV-2 can attach to the cell.

Using computer models, researchers identified amino acids in ACE2 that showed strong interactions with SARS-CoV-2. They observed that in non-susceptible animal species, these amino acids were often different, ultimately disrupting the attachment between the ACE2 protein and the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. This allowed the researchers to make predictions about which animals species are possibly at risk of infection. They estimated that while horses and camels would be vulnerable to infection, cows, goats, and Malayan pangolins would present intermediate susceptibility.

In August, another preprint fromresearchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotiaexamined whether marine wildlife are susceptible to the virus. Using similar modeling methods, these researchers concluded that whales, dolphins, seals, and otters would be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. They suggest that exposure could happen through contaminated sewage entering the sea.

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Lactose tolerance spread through Europe faster than previously thought - Massive Science

DNA found in caterpillar guts points to what they are eating – Massive Science

Just as scientists are rapidly learning how SARS-CoV-2 affects humans, they are also quickly working to understand how it affects other animals. House cats, tigers, golden hamsters, and rhesus monkeys are all susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. And while avian species such as duck and chicken are not, dogs, pigs, and ferrets have shown intermediate susceptibility.

The critical entry point for the virus into our cells is a protein called ACE2, which bonds withthe spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.Animals and humans both expressing ACE2 in their cells, so scientists have been wondering why different species have different SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility, and if it is possible to predict which animals might be at risk.

In a preprint posted on bioRxiv in July, researchers at Vanderbilt Universityapproached this question by comparing the amino acid sequence of ACE2 from different animal species. Amino acids are compounds that combine to form proteins. Inside cells, this amino acid chain folds into a three-dimensional shape. And as a result, some amino acids become hidden, and others exposed. Exposed ACE2 amino acids are of great interest because they determine whether SARS-CoV-2 can attach to the cell.

Using computer models, researchers identified amino acids in ACE2 that showed strong interactions with SARS-CoV-2. They observed that in non-susceptible animal species, these amino acids were often different, ultimately disrupting the attachment between the ACE2 protein and the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. This allowed the researchers to make predictions about which animals species are possibly at risk of infection. They estimated that while horses and camels would be vulnerable to infection, cows, goats, and Malayan pangolins would present intermediate susceptibility.

In August, another preprint fromresearchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotiaexamined whether marine wildlife are susceptible to the virus. Using similar modeling methods, these researchers concluded that whales, dolphins, seals, and otters would be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. They suggest that exposure could happen through contaminated sewage entering the sea.

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DNA found in caterpillar guts points to what they are eating - Massive Science

What is the COVID-19 polyclonal antibody treatment that President Trump took? – Massive Science

Just as scientists are rapidly learning how SARS-CoV-2 affects humans, they are also quickly working to understand how it affects other animals. House cats, tigers, golden hamsters, and rhesus monkeys are all susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. And while avian species such as duck and chicken are not, dogs, pigs, and ferrets have shown intermediate susceptibility.

The critical entry point for the virus into our cells is a protein called ACE2, which bonds withthe spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.Animals and humans both expressing ACE2 in their cells, so scientists have been wondering why different species have different SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility, and if it is possible to predict which animals might be at risk.

In a preprint posted on bioRxiv in July, researchers at Vanderbilt Universityapproached this question by comparing the amino acid sequence of ACE2 from different animal species. Amino acids are compounds that combine to form proteins. Inside cells, this amino acid chain folds into a three-dimensional shape. And as a result, some amino acids become hidden, and others exposed. Exposed ACE2 amino acids are of great interest because they determine whether SARS-CoV-2 can attach to the cell.

Using computer models, researchers identified amino acids in ACE2 that showed strong interactions with SARS-CoV-2. They observed that in non-susceptible animal species, these amino acids were often different, ultimately disrupting the attachment between the ACE2 protein and the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. This allowed the researchers to make predictions about which animals species are possibly at risk of infection. They estimated that while horses and camels would be vulnerable to infection, cows, goats, and Malayan pangolins would present intermediate susceptibility.

In August, another preprint fromresearchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotiaexamined whether marine wildlife are susceptible to the virus. Using similar modeling methods, these researchers concluded that whales, dolphins, seals, and otters would be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. They suggest that exposure could happen through contaminated sewage entering the sea.

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What is the COVID-19 polyclonal antibody treatment that President Trump took? - Massive Science

RCC partners with Upswing to provide increased academic support services – The Robesonian

October 03, 2020

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. As Americans hunker down to weather the pandemic this winter at home, nearly every facet of life will remain upended to safeguard against the coronavirus.

Accuweathers team of long-range forecasters, led by Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok, released its annual predictions for the upcoming winter season this week. The team has been analyzing global weather patterns and various weather models to project what conditions will unfold across the lower 48 United States this winter, which arrives Dec. 21. Much of the time the setup will be driven by one key factor: La Nia.

La Nia is a phenomenon in which the surface water near the equator of the Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal, the opposite of El Nio when the water in the equatorial Pacific is in a warm phase. This change in the water temperature can have a major influence on the weather patterns all around the globe. According to NOAAs Climate Prediction Center, La Nia officially developed by early September and is forecast to continue through the winter months.

The ongoing La Nia is projected to bring weather conditions similar to what meteorologists expect across the country during a typical La Nia pattern, but there may be a few subtle differences, Pastelok said.


The first part of the winter may be the coldest for the southeastern U.S., as a brief shot or two of cold air has the potential to rush down from the north all the way to the Gulf Coast.

Early cold may take a run at the eastern U.S. if snow lays in the Ohio Valley and parts of the Tennessee Valley in December, Pastelok said.

Atlanta, Huntsville, Alabama, Greenville, South Carolina, and Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, could all be hit by a cold snap to kick off the season. Even Floridians may want to make sure to dig out heavier coats from the closet sooner rather than later.

There is a small chance for an early season frost in northern and central Florida perhaps impacting the citrus crop, Pastelok added.

Temperatures are projected to rebound as the season carries on, paving the way for much warmer conditions through the balance of the winter.

Near-record warmth [is predicted] at times in the Southeast, occasionally extending into the mid-Atlantic, Pastelok said.

This extended warmth will be good news for restaurants across the region that have added outdoor seating areas because of the coronavirus pandemic, and could perhaps allow them to utilize the extra space even during the winter months.

Restaurants that do have outdoor seating should still keep a close eye on the weather forecast, not just for temperatures, but also for disruptive storms, especially during the first few weeks of 2021.

Severe thunderstorms may occur more than usual from the central Gulf Coast to the Southeast in late January and February, Pastelok said.

Northeast, Midwest

The winter of 2019-2020 was tame across much of the northeastern U.S. with only a handful of Arctic outbreaks and very little snow to speak of along the Interstate 95 corridor and the upcoming winter could bring some echoes of last winter.

Another overall mild winter is possible for much of the eastern U.S., Pastelok said, referring to how temperatures will compare to the 30-year averages in many places. However, he expects near-normal snowfall across much of New England.

However, the entire season will not be mild all the way through. Instead, the season will be bookended by cold and snowy conditions with a pause in the wintry weather in the middle of the season.

The first waves of chilly Arctic air will set off rounds of lake-effect snow downwind of the Great Lakes and bring opportunities for snow in some of the bigger cities across the region heading into the holiday season.

There is a good chance for a white Christmas in Chicago, perhaps around 30-35% chance at this point, Pastelok said. For Pittsburgh, much of the lake-effect snow could fall north of the city and it may be tough to keep snow on the ground. But from this far out I give a 15-20% chance for a white Christmas in Pittsburgh, but, still, there is a chance.

Plains, Rocky Mountains

The central U.S. experienced a taste of winter as soon as autumn arrived. Meteorological fall began on the first day of September, and just one week later, a winter-like storm dove down across the Plains and northern Rockies, causing temperatures to tumble and delivering snow to the Rockies and some of the foothills.

The middle of the nation may go through some big swings in temperatures, [and] dry and active periods, Pastelok said. Periods of subzero cold can drive south down the Front Range of the Rockies, the central and western Plains.

Snow will be a prominent feature during these big swings, especially over the northern Rockies and into parts of Colorado, which will be beneficial for ski resorts across the region.

There is also the chance for some frequent snowfall in the northern Plains in parts of Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

Farther south, the chances for snow will be lower, including part of the southern Plains, the southern Rockies and westward into the Four Corners.

Meanwhile, the central Plains will be in the battleground zone, swinging from bitterly cold conditions to spells of milder weather and then back again in less than a weeks time.

West Coast

Autumn may feel shorter this year across the Pacific Northwest as wintry weather makes an early entrance across the region.

Mountain snow and stormy conditions may arrive in late fall for the Northwest, northern California and northern Rockies, Pastelok said.

Even the Interstate 5 corridor from Medford, Oregon, through Seattle will have several opportunities for accumulating snowfall, potentially even before 2020 draws to a close.

The waves of storms throughout the upcoming months will help to ease the drought conditions across the region, especially in Oregon where more than 60% of the state is in severe drought and over 30% is in an extreme drought.

More importantly, the early arrival of winter storms will spell the conclusion to a historic wildfire season that has charred millions of acres across Washington, Oregon and California.

However, after the flames have smoldered, heavy rains could pose an added danger in the burn scars left behind by the fires, especially in the mountainous terrain.

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RCC partners with Upswing to provide increased academic support services - The Robesonian

How hybrids have upturned evolutionary theory – The Economist

Oct 3rd 2020

IN 1981 PETER and Rosemary Grant, a husband-and-wife team of evolutionary biologists, spotted something odd on Daphne Major. Every year for the previous decade they had travelled from Princeton University to this island in the Galpagos, to study its three endemic tanager species, part of a group known colloquially as Darwins finches. On this occasion their eyes were drawn to an unusual male that sported dark feathers and sang a unique song. Genetic analysis later identified him as a large cactus finch, probably blown in from Espaola, another part of the archipelago that is over 100km away.

Intrigued, the Grants followed the castaway as he explored his new home. They watched him mate with a local female medium ground finch. That produced five fit, healthy offspring. Those offspring were also surprisingly sexually selective. A single male excepted, they and their descendants mated only among themselvesand they have continued to do so ever since.

Despite this heavy inbreeding, the hybrids (two of which are pictured above) have been successful. They have carved out a niche in which they use their size and their deep beaks to exploit the large woody fruits of the Jamaican feverplant, which grows locally. They have, to all intents and purposes, become another species of Darwin finch, of which 13 were previously recognised. Though they do not yet have a Latinised scientific name, they are known to all as the Big Bird lineage.

This story would once have been considered deeply implausible. Evolutions orthodox narrative does not suggest that hybridisation is how new animal species emerge. But, as genetic testing has proliferated, biologists have been confronted with an unexpected fact. Hybrids are not an evolutionary bug. They are a feature.

That knowledge is changing the way people think about evolution. The neat family trees envisaged by Charles Darwin in one of his early notebooks (see picture below) are turning into webs, and the primacy of mutation in generating the variation which natural selection then winnows is being challenged. The influx of genes accompanying hybridisation creates such variation tooand the harder people look, the more important that seems to get. Hybridisation also offers shortcuts on the long march to speciation that do not depend on natural selection at all. As the example of the Big Bird lineage shows, instead of taking millennia to emerge, a new species can appear almost overnight.

In truth, all this had already been recognised for simple organisms like bacteria. These exchange genes promiscuously between both more and less related individuals. But bacteria were unknown when Darwin came up with natural selection, and, ever since then, the subject of speciation has been dominated by examples drawn from animals and plants. To recognise that what is true for bacteria is also true for these multicellular organisms has profound implications, not least for how human beings understand their own origins. It seems appropriate, then, that the birds whose diversity helped inspire Darwin still have evolutionary tales to tell.

The conventional view of evolution is that mutations happen at random. Maladaptive ones are then eliminated by competitive pressure while adaptive ones proliferate. The result, over long periods of time and assisted by populations sometimes being split up by external circumstances, is change which eventually crystallises into new and separate species.

That process does leave the door open to hybrids. The genomes of closely related species may remain sufficiently similar to produce viable offspring. But these genes often fit together less well than those of parents from the same species. As a consequence, even viable hybrids are frequently infertile (think mules) and are also at higher risk of developmental and other types of illnesses. In fact, infertility in male hybrids is so common that it has a nameHaldanes rule. This sort of thing was enough to persuade most of Darwins 20th-century disciples that the need to avoid hybridisation was actually a driving force which caused natural selection to erect reproductive barriers between incipient species, and thus encouraged speciation.

There is, though, another way of looking at hybridisation. Mixing the traits of two parent species might actually leave their hybrid offspring better off. This is called hybrid vigour, or heterosis. The interplay of two species genes can even produce traits displayed by neither parent. This is known as transgressive segregation and the resulting hybrid may be surprisingly well adapted to a completely new niche, as was the case with the Big Birds.

Both the maleficent and beneficent effects of hybridisation are real. The question is, which wins out more often in practice? In plants, it is frequently the beneficent. This is a consequence of plants unusually malleable genetics. The nuclear genomes of complex organisms (animals, plants, fungi and single-celled organisms such as amoebae) are divided into bundles of DNA called chromosomes. Such organisms are generally either haploid or diploid, meaning that each cell nucleus contains either one or two copies of every chromosome. Human beings are diploid. They have 23 chromosomal pairs, for a total of 46 individual chromosomes. But there are exceptions. Plants, for instance, are frequently polyploidmeaning that each nucleus contains copies in greater multiples than two. To take one example, Californian coastal redwoods have six copies. Since redwood cell nuclei have 11 distinct types of chromosome, they host a total of 66 chromosomes altogether.

Sometimes, polyploidy is a result of an organisms genome spontaneously doubling. Often, though, it is a consequence of hybridisation, with the chromosomes of both parents ending up in a single nucleus. However it arises, polyploidy provides spare copies of genes for natural selection to work on while other versions of them continue with their original function. And if it is also the result of hybridisation, it brings the additional possibilities of heterosis and transgressive segregation.

On top of this, by changing an organisms chromosome count polyploidy has another pertinent effect. It creates an instant barrier to breeding with either parent species. That gives a new, incipient species a chance to establish itself without being reabsorbed into one of the parental populations. The results can be spectacular. Recent evidence suggests, for example, that hybridisation between two plant species in the distant past, followed by a simple doubling of the number of chromosomes in their offspring, may be responsible for much of the extraordinary diversity in flowering plants that is seen today.

Plants seem to be easy beneficiaries of hybridisation. For many animals, howeverand for mammals in particularextra chromosomes serve not to enhance things, but to disrupt them. Why, is not completely clear. Cell division in animals seems more easily confounded by superfluous chromosomes than it is in plants, so this may be a factor. Plants also have simpler cells, which are more able to accommodate extra chromosomes. Whatever the details, animal hybrids appear to feel the effects of genetic incompatibility far more acutely than do plants, and are therefore less able to benefit from heterosis. Evolutionary biologists therefore assumed for a long time that hybridisation played a negligible role in animal evolutionand there was little evidence to suggest otherwise.

Advances in DNA sequencing have changed that by letting people look under the bonnet of evolutionary history. This has uncovered a steady trickle of animals breathed into life entirely by hybrid speciation. They include some familiar names. The European bison, for instance, is the result of hybridisation, over 120,000 years ago, between two now extinct speciesthe ice-age steppe bison and the auroch. The latter were the wild antecedents of modern domestic cattle, and survived in Jaktorow Forest, in Poland, until 1627.

Something similar is true of the Atlantic Clymene dolphin. Genetic analysis has revealed that this cetacean, which roams the briny between west Africa, Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico, owes its existence to a hybridisation that happened between two globe-trotting others, the striped dolphin and the spinner dolphin.

At least one hybrid animal, moreover, traces its ancestry to three species. Genetic analysis shows that Artibeus schwartzi, a Caribbean fruit bat, is a result of hybridisation, within the past 30,000 years, of the Jamaican fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis), the South American flat-faced fruit-eating bat (Artibeus planirostris) and a third, as yet unidentified animal, which researchers speculate may now be extinct.

It also appears that, as in the case of flowering plants, hybridisation can fuel explosive radiations of novel animals. The best-known example is the case of the cichlids of Africas Great Lakesparticularly Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. Great Lake cichlids are a group of thousands of closely related fish, famous for their panoply of shapes, sizes and colours (see picture). Each is adapted to a different depth and ecological niche.

Cichlids evolutionary history has long puzzled biologists. Lake Victoria, in particular, comes and goes with the climate. Its current instantiation is less than 15,000 years old. In evolutionary terms this is the blink of an eye, but in that time the lakes cichlids have diversified into more than 500 species.

The reason is hybridisation. Using genetic analysis to place Lake Victorias cichlids within the broader cichlid family tree, researchers have discovered that they descend from a tryst between two distinct parental lineages, one that swam in the Congo and the other in the Nile.

The value of being such a genetic mosaic is apparent from the history of one of the best-studied cichlid genes, which encodes a protein called long-wave-sensitive opsin that is found in the retina of the eye. This protein determines the eyes sensitivity to red light. That matters because red-light levels decline steeply in deeper water. Consequently, fish which live at different depths need eyes that are tuned differently from one another.

The cichlid lineage from the Congo had eyes which were optimised for clear, shallow water. Nile-lineage vision was more attuned to the deep and murky. Hybrids were able to chop and change these genetic variants to produce a range of sensitivities to light. This let them colonise the full depth of the water column in Lake Victoria as it developed. The new lake, for its part, offered the cichlids a host of empty ecological niches to fill. The result was a sudden and explosive process dubbed combinatorial speciation.

Elsewhere in the natural world, combinatorial speciation seems to have contributed to the striking diversity of Sporophila, a genus of 41 Neotropical songbirds, and of the munias, mannikins and silverbills of the genus Lonchura, a group of 31 estrildid finches that ranges across Africa and South-East Asia. Nor is it just in vertebrates that this phenomenon rears its head. Heliconius, a genus of 39 flamboyant New World butterflies, also owes its eye-catching diversity to combinatorial speciation.

These findings muddy Darwins concept of speciation as a slow and gradual process. Biologists now know that in the right circumstances, and with the help of hybridisation, new species can emerge and consolidate themselves in a mere handful of generations. That is an important amendment to evolutionary theory.

It is nevertheless true that, for animals, hybrid speciation in its full form remains rare. It requires an unlikely congruence of factors to keep a new hybrid population reproductively isolated from both parental species. The survival of the Galpagos Big Bird lineage, for example, involved physical isolation from one and strong sexual selection against the other.

More commonly, an incipient hybrid population is reabsorbed by one or both parental species before it can properly establish itself. The result is a percolation of genes from one species to another, rather than a full hybrid. This is called introgressive hybridisationor, simply, introgression. DNA analysis of a long list of closely related animals shows that this version of hybridisation is far more common than the full form. It may even be ubiquitous.

The North American grey wolf, for example, owes its gene for melanismthe deep black fur displayed by some wolvesto introgression from domesticated dogs brought 14,000 years ago from Asia by Americas first human settlers. In wolves that inhabit forests this gene has undergone strong positive selection, suggesting it is adaptive. The most obvious explanation is that melanism provides better camouflage in the stygian depths of North Americas woodlands. Alternatively, female wolves may simply prefer their males tall, dark and handsome.

Pantherathe genus to which most big cats belongis yet more impressive in the scope of its introgressive entanglement. It has five members: lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards and jaguars. These have long been known to interbreed successfully in captivity, yielding crosses called ligers (lion x tiger), jaglions (jaguar x lion) and so on. But recent analysis shows that this has also happened in the wild. Researchers have identified at least six past introgressive episodes in the genus, with every member involved in at least one of them.

The most promiscuous of the five appears to be the lion. Gene variants have percolated between lions and tigers, lions and snow leopards, and lions and jaguars. There is also evidence that at least some of this gene flow has been adaptive. Three lion genes incorporated into jaguar genomes are known to have been strongly selected for. Two of these are involved in visionspecifically, they help guide the development of the optic nerve.

Genetic analysis also reveals a long history of hybridisation between polar bears and grizzlies, the largest of their brown bear cousins. It is not yet clear whether this has had adaptive valuebut it may soon have a chance to prove itself. As climate change warms the polar bears Arctic home, the species may have to adjust rapidly. A splash of grizzly, a group used to more temperate climes, might help that happen.

The best-studied case of introgression in animals is, though, closer to home than wolves, big cats and bears. It is looking back at you from the mirror. The most up-to-date evidence suggests that Homo sapiens arose more than 315,000 years ago from gene flow between a series of interlinked population groups spread across Africa. Whether these populations were different enough to be considered distinct species is still debated. In the grasslands of the African Pleistocene, however, these ancestral groups were not alone. Their world was interspersed with a menagerie of other hominins. And interspecies mating seems to have been rife.

Several members of this human menagerie appear to have descended from Homo heidelbergensis, a species that spread through eastern and southern Africa around 700,000 years ago before crossing the Middle East into Europe and Asia. This speciesa possible ancestor of the progenitor groups of Homo sapiensalso gave rise to at least two others, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and the Denisovans (Homo denisova). The former survived in Europe until 28,000 years ago, while the latter, an Asiatic group, lasted until roughly 50,000 years ago.

Other hominin species around at the time emerged directly from Homo erectus, a more primitive creature that was also the ancestor of Homo heidelbergensis and which, a million years beforehand, had blazed a similar transcontinental expansionary path to that of heidelbergensis. The local descendants of erectus were largely displaced by heidelbergensis when it arrived. But some holdouts survived in corners of the Old World that heidelbergensis never reached. These included the islands of Flores in Indonesia and Luzon in the Philippines. It was here that diminutive Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensisthe island hobbitslasted, like the Denisovans, until 50,000 years ago. There were probably isolated descendants of even older cousins too. At least one is known, Homo naledi, which predated the emergence of Homo erectus and still roamed southern Africa around 230,000 years ago.

This grand hominin circus ultimately came to an abrupt end. The record in Africa is opaque. But in Europe, Asia and Oceania it is clear that the arrival of modern humans coincided with a great vanishing of local hominins. Whether through disease, competition for scarce resources or perhaps even genocide, a few thousand years of contact with Homo sapiens was enough to snuff out every other hominin species.

Even a few millennia, though, proved enough for Homo sapiens to get to know its cousins intimately. The record of these romantic entanglements remains in the DNA of almost everyone alive today. In 2010 a team led by Svante Pbo of the Max Planck Institutes campus in Leipzig published the first draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome. This led to the discovery that stretches of Neanderthal DNA constitute 1-4% of the modern human genome in all populations outside sub-Saharan Africa. That is consistent with a string of hybridising liaisons in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia from around 65,000 years ago.

Neanderthal inheritance helped Homo sapiens adapt to the demands of the environments of these unfamiliar places. There seems to have been strong selection, for example, in favour of Neanderthal genes related to skin and hair growth. These include bnc 2, a gene linked to skin pigment and freckling that is still present in two-thirds of Europeans. There also appears to have been selection for Neanderthal-derived genes that deal with pathogens. Some govern the immune systems ability to detect bacterial infections. Others encode proteins which interact with viruses.

The Denisovans, and their contribution to Homo sapiens, were another of Dr Pbos discoveries. In 2009 one of his team sequenced DNA from a fossil finger bone excavated from Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. This bone turned out to belong to a previously unknown species that was then named after the cave it was found in. Physical specimens of this species remain rare. Examination of living people, however, reveals that stretches of Denisovan DNA make up 3-6% of the genome of contemporary Papuans, Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians. Many Chinese and Japanese also carry Denisovan DNA, albeit at lower rates.

As with Neanderthals, this inheritance has brought advantages. The Denisovan version of a gene called epas1 modulates production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen. This helps modern Tibetans to survive at high altitudes. Denisovan tbx 15 and wars 2 similarly help Inuit survive the harsh cold of the Arctic by regulating the amount of metabolic heat they produce.

That the Denisovans could lurk in modern human DNA yet leave so little fossil trace has caused geneticists to wonder what other ghosts they might find. The genomes of sub-Saharan Africans, in particular, reveal evidence of at least one further entanglement. In 2012 a genomic analysis of members of the Baka, Hadza and Sandawe, three groups of people of ancient lineage, suggested an archaic introgression. In 2016 a deeper analysis focused on the Baka pinpointed this to within the past 30,000 years. This February, a study of members of two other groups, the Yoruba and Mende, confirmed that between 2% and 19% of their genomes can be traced to an unidentified archaic species. Whether this is the same as the one which has contributed to the Baka, Hadza and Sandawe is unclear, but it appears to have diverged from the line leading directly to Homo sapiens not long before the Neanderthals and Denisovansan African Neanderthal, if you will.

The same genetic tools have revealed deeper ghosts, too. Denisovans show signs of hybridisation with a superarchaic lineageperhaps Homo erectus itself. This makes up 1% of the species genome. About 15% of this superarchaic inheritance has, in turn, been passed on to modern humans. There is even evidence of a minute genetic contribution to African populations by a similarly superarchaic relative.

To be human, then, is to be a multispecies mongrel. As the example of the big cats in particular shows, though, Homo sapiens is not, in this, an exception. Hybridisation, once seen as a spear-carrier in evolutions grand theatre, is rapidly becoming a star of the show. Meanwhile, Darwins idea of a simple, universal family tree is relegated to the wings.

In its place, some experts now prefer the idea of a tangled bush of interconnected branches. But this, too, is an imperfect comparison. A more fitting analogy is a frayed rope. Species are braided from individual strands. Where evolution proceeds in an orthodox Darwinian manner, braids unravel, strands split and new species result. But the rope does not fray neatly. Filaments of introgression criss-cross from braid to braid and, occasionally, two tangle to form a new braid altogether. This is a more complex conception of evolutionary history, but also a richer one. Few things in life are simplewhy should life itself be?

This article appeared in the Science & technology section of the print edition under the headline "Match and mix"

How hybrids have upturned evolutionary theory - The Economist

In Rita Colwell’s Memoirs, a Reminder That Discrimination in Science Is Universal – The Wire Science

Rita Colwell in 2011. Photo: Chaman Sond/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

From flipping through my brothers chemistry book, drawing chemical bonds on walls to doing lab experiments and getting a trinitrotoluene tattoo on my leg my love for chemistry is a famous fact among family and friends. Sadly, I gave up on that love quite early in my life when my father tried to get me to become a gynaecologist.

Anguished, I gravitated towards the social sciences instead, subsequently giving rise to my interest in science and feminism. I found here a sense of self-gratification, regret and hope in unravelling the lives of women scientists, their struggles and accomplishments.

When I started reading A Lab of Ones Own, dj vu crept in; I was reminded of books like Hypatias Heritage by Margaret Alic, various biographies of Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintock and other women scientists and of course stories about the likes of Anna Mani in India. Even though they lived through different times, cultures and contexts, gender-based discrimination was so common in their lives that it was both the norm and the normal.

Even today, this is true. However, as A Lab of Ones Own asks, how can we keep the wheels turning? After reading the book, it became clear to me that it is more than a biography of Rita Colwell the scientist, science administrator, policymaker and entrepreneur. The book, written by Colwell and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, goes well beyond complaints and stories of victimhood.

A discussion of the broader concern and vision of Margaret Walsh Rossiter in the prologue resonated with me. Rossiter didnt want to stop with bringing more women into science; she wanted to bring everyone who had been excluded back women of any stripe, African American men, Latinos, other people of colour, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, or anyone else who doesnt fit the stereotype of the white male genius.

The book proper begins with Colwells recurring encounters with existing conventions, including the advice she received against studying science even though she had fared well in high school. I grew up in Bihar, and have met too many bright female students who simply couldnt pursue higher studies after high school due to socio-economic and cultural barriers. Science was male-dominated; my family encouraged my brothers to study engineering. And Colwells writing showed how, though the individual plots are different, the same tropes played out in the US as well.

Talented women in the US struggled to get fellowships and work opportunities despite strong academic performances. In almost all institutions of higher education, women were discriminated against, and denied their due. Ironically, anti-nepotism rules were used mostly against women.

Various feminist movements have highlighted similar cases in India. The #MeToo movement exposed among many, many issues the gender-insensitive character of practising science in India. In chapter after chapter, Colwell and McGrayne describe the stories of many women scientists who pursued science despite similar odds. Some were recognised for their contributions in their lifetime, others were only after they had died, and even others not at all.

Colwell studied bacteriology and genetics at Purdue University, Indiana, where she also battled against the deeply entrenched discriminatory practices. Together with my own experiences, I sense that discrimination in science is universal.

To avoid competing with established scholars in the field of marine bacteria, Colwell chose to work on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a species thats usually found in water and the soil, and is known for its resistance to antibiotics.

When she presented her work at a workshop, Roger Stanier, a prominent scientist in that field, criticised and ridiculed her. Colwell recalled: I was not his student, not part of his laboratory, and I was intruding on his bacterium, about which he was clearly an expert. Would he have treated a male student the same way? Probably not. More likely, he would have been constructive in his criticism and actually helpful.

Colwell was offended. More significantly, she anticipated that Staniers continued criticism and ridicule could mothball her career, so she set about choosing a different bacterium to study eventually picking Vibrios.

The part of the natural universe that we are yet to explore with the scientific method is vast. But what we do study in this vastness is determined not only by curiosity or other benign forces. Our choices are also shaped by social considerations. I myself was dismayed by the twisted path that led Colwell to one species of bacteria instead of another. However, she also made seminal contributions to our knowledge of Vibrios.

As she wrote, A project that started in the crucible of despair turned into one of the best decisions I ever made. Now, fifty years later, that decision has kept me active in one of the hottest fields in the life sciences: microbiomes, the study of all the genetic material in all the microorganisms in a particular environment, whether it be the human gut, food, river water, or the ocean.

Only a woman of formidable courage, conviction and intellect could have spoken these words. And thanks to her work, we now have an advance-alert system to signal potential outbreaks of cholera, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, with huge implications for public health worldwide.

Science and government

The chapter on her research work at Georgetown University drew my attention as it reminded me of conversations with senior faculty members in Indian universities and technical institutions, during my PhD, who candidly shared how gender-biases intersect with the recruitment and promotion processes. Colwell recalls how the university, which first hired her, gave her the opportunities to grow and contribute but eventually declined to make her a full professor, despite all her accolades. She subsequently moved to the University of Maryland in 1972.

Her experiences there, as well as at the US National Science Foundation, where she became its first female director in 1998, show how she exemplified a blend of problem-solver and team-player, and her optimism and tactfulness.

As a science policy scholar, Im keenly aware of how policies influence Indias national innovation system. Reading of her work at the NSF in this regard was enlightening especially for showing how a single institution backed by political will can research ecosystems that are both sustainable and agile, to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly in emerging sciences and technologies.

Remarkably, Colwell and McGrayne dont portray Colwell as a victim of gender-biased science nor as an extraordinary warrior who demolished stereotypes. Instead, her story melds seamlessly with an ethos of scientific practice that has become coincident in the 21st century with fairness and equitability: of a scientist who valued team work, encouraged others to contribute and believed in conversations and dialogues irrespective of differences in viewpoints and perspectives.

Having said that, I wish I had come across a similar text for women who are interested in social sciences, to guide them with sources of opportunities and inspire them to pursue their dreams.

As a postdoctoral scholar working on issues in gender and science, technology and innovation, I found this book rewarding, enriching and amazing. In fact, I even felt a twinge of disappointment that there wasnt a similar book (from what I know) vis--vis the social sciences a book that told the story of a woman not as someone who made it big and challenged the system but as an exemplum of the need for and importance of perseverance and struggle.

Nimita Pandey is an STI Policy Fellow at the DST Centre for Policy Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

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In Rita Colwell's Memoirs, a Reminder That Discrimination in Science Is Universal - The Wire Science

The Science of Joint Health – What Causes Pain and How to Ease It –

Joints are the bodys hardworking hinges. When healthy, they connect your bones and give you the range of motion you need to carry out daily activities. Women, though, are particularly vulnerable to joint pain, stiffness and frustration. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that by 2040, two-thirds of arthritis (joint inflammation) sufferers will be female.

Experts point to a number of explanations for the disparity between men and women in arthritis. For starters, obesity is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis, and weight gain triggered by menopause can place stress on joints. Plus, hormones make womens' ligaments more lax, so they offer less support for joints at certain points in the menstrual cycle. Some research suggests that the angle of womens hips to their knees could make women more prone to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuriesanother factor in osteoarthritis.

Womens immune systems seem to be more robust than mens, says Iris Navarro-Millan, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and Hospital for Special Surgery. But this disease-fighting superpower could put immune systems into overdrive, leading them to misguidedly attack joints. As a result, women are also much more likely to have autoimmune-related joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Fortunately, theres much you can do to keep your hinges happy. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are key. Regular activity keeps joints nourished and lubricated and strengthens the muscles and tendons that keep them stable and protected, says Kathy Weber, M.D. an assistant professor of sports medicine at Rush University Medical Center. And every extra 10 pounds you carry increases the load on your weight-bearing joints by 40 pounds.

In addition to straining joints, obesity can cause metabolic changes that promote pain and inflammation. But you dont need to lose a lot to make a big difference: Dropping just five to 10% of your body weight can reduce knee pain and significantly improve function. Read on for what may be causing your pain and more ways to ease it.

Over 30 conditions could be the culprit, and they fall into two categories: mechanical wear and tear injuries and inflammatory disorders. Heres more about two of the most common.

Injury, years of use, genetics or inflammation can spur the breakdown of bone-protecting cartilage. Think of it as like potholes developing in a road, says Dr. Weber. In this setting, the lining of the joint, the synovium, can become inflamed as well.

Symptoms: OA can affect numerous joints, but they may not all flare up with symptoms at the same time. Hips, knees, the spine, the base of the thumb and small hand joints tend to be common OA sites for women. Tenderness and stiffness in affected areas may develop gradually.

Diagnosis: Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and take X-rays or other images. They may order blood work to rule out other conditions.

Treatment: Because damaged cartilage does not regrow on its own, surgery may be an option, but the goal of treatment is usually to reduce pain and restore function. Dr. Weber often starts by prescribing regular exercise or referring patients for physical therapy to strengthen muscles that support joints.

A physical therapist can create an individualized exercise plan to help you feel and function better. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can relieve symptoms too. Steroids and other substances may be injected to ease discomfort at the site of a flare. Joint replacement is usually a last resort, and more conservative measures should be tried first.

The immune system attacks the joints, eventually causing permanent damage. The joint lining becomes inflamed and produces factors that destroy the cartilage and bone, explains Ellen Gravallese, M.D., president of the American College of Rheumatology. RA can run in families, but lifestyle factors can set it in motion. In fact, if you have a genetic predisposition and you smoke, it can increase the chances of developing RA by as much as 40 times.

Symptoms: One hallmark of RA, Dr. Gravallese says, is that your joints feel stiffest first thing in the morning or after prolonged inactivity, and then after an hour of activity and movement, they generally begin to loosen and feel less painful. (In contrast, OA pain typically gets worse with strenuous activity). RA often first appears in the small joints of the hands and feet. They may be swollen, warm and red and flare up on both sides of the body at the same time. RA symptoms can also include whole-body issues like fatigue.

Diagnosis: Episodes can come and go and early symptoms can be subtle, which means RA sufferers may not know they have it for months or even years. If you experience unexplained joint issues, be proactive. The earlier the treatment, the better the outcomeask for a referral for a rheumatologist. Doctors will start with a detailed history and a physical exam. Blood work can help detect markers of inflammation and disease.

Treatment: The goal is to halt inflammation to prevent further damage to joints. One option may be biologics, a class of drugs that can help downshift the immune system. If you continue to have active disease, you can consult with your doctor to try a different strategy.

Though common, this condition is still poorly understoodits sufferers, primarily female, may be wired to be especially sensitive to their bodies pain signals. Symptoms include pain all over the body, along with muscle aches and fatigue as well as brain fog. Fortunately, this chronic condition doesnt cause lasting damage to joints.

This infection is caused by bacteria transmitted through tick bites. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees and other large joints.

Signs of this autoimmune condition include joint pain and swelling, fatigue and sometimes a butterfly-shaped facial rash. Nine out of 10 sufferers are women.

Its said that when it comes to joints, motion is lotion. So what exercise is best? Anything you enjoy enough to stick with. Even running, once thought to be a fast path to developing arthritis, has gotten the ok. In fact, a recent study found that serious runners were at no greater risk for knee arthritis. Keep these tips in mind:

Warming up for a few minutes readies the joint and the muscles around it to reduce the chance of injury, says Dr. Weber. Dont just stretch in place warm up dynamically, she says. Walk for a few minutes before you pick it up to a jog. If you are just starting an exercise routine, build up slowly in intensity and duration.

Variety in activity strengthens different muscle sets and reduces your chances of an overuse injury. An ideal joint-boosting routine combines 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise such as fast walking or biking with a couple of sessions of strength training such as with free weights or resistance bands. Yoga is also a great optionit increases your flexibility and gives a natural energy boost.

Proprioception is awareness of where your body is in space, which can help you prevent joint injuries. To improve your proprioception, try standing on one leg followed by the other for a minute each while you brush your teeth every day.

Long sessions hunched in front of a computer are a recipe for stiffness. Take regular breaks to keep joints lubricated. Try setting a timer on your phone as a reminder. Then, every 30 minutes, walk around (or even march in place) for a bit.

If you do develop a joint condition, theres no reason you have to cease all activity. Your doctor or physical therapist can suggest gentle exercises such as using an elliptical trainer, biking, tai chi or water aerobics.

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The Science of Joint Health - What Causes Pain and How to Ease It -

In Disorders of the Heart and Brain, Does Sex Matter? – Medscape

For Jill M. Goldstein, PhD, sex matters.

A professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School, Goldstein is passionate about the need to develop initiatives focused on sex and gender differences in disorders of the heart and brain. Ask her why and she doesn't hedge.

"Every cell has a sex," she said. "Every cell in a woman's body is different from every cell in a man's body. So we want to raise the awareness that sex is an important factor in disease outcomes."

Women are twice as likely as men to present with major depressive disorder (MDD) and have twice the rate of co-occurrence of MDD and cardiovascular disease, a phenomenon associated with three to five times' greater risk for death from cardiovascular disease. Globally, approximately 2 of every 3 people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease dementia are women.

In a recent viewpoint article published in JAMA Psychiatry, Goldstein along with colleagues Ana Langer, MD, and Jill Lesser, JD describe the need for researchers and clinicians to focus on these differences, particularly with respect to the co-occurrence of MDD, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Doing so, the authors believe, could help stem the tide of what they call this "multimorbidity crisis."

For Goldstein, the quest for sex and gender equality in medicine goes back at least three decades, when she first realized that sex differences were rarely considered, either in the lab or the clinic. Since then, she has dedicated a considerable part of her career to elucidating the differences between men and women in a variety of disorders, including MDD and its comorbidity with cardiometabolic diseases, psychoses, and the risk for dementia. She has published more than 170 articles, chapters, and other original and peer-reviewed works in these areas.

Despite her efforts, substantial gaps and barriers remain, particularly with respect to these particular conditions. For example, most animal studies in neuroscience and cardiovascular disease still use an overwhelming proportion of male samples; few systematic clinical studies have examined sex differences in the brain and heart in MDD.In mixed-sex trials of cardiovascular disease, only one third of participants are women, and only 25% to 33% of such studies report outcomes by sex. Even fewer studies including those of Alzheimer's disease, which disproportionately affects women are designed on the basis of sex.

"Women have been historically neglected in terms of attention," Langer, professor of the practice of public health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.

Equally troubling for the authors is the fact that researchers tend to examine each of these diseases independently at a single point in time, rather than as co-occurrences throughout life. This approach, they write, prevents a complete understanding of the shared effects of psychological, biological, social, and environmental factors across organs and tissues over an individual's lifetime.

People with both depression and cardiovascular disease have a three- to fivefold increased risk of death from heart disease.... And those people are primarily women.

"People with both depression and cardiovascular disease have a three- to fivefold increased risk of death from heart disease," Goldstein explained. "And those people are primarily women."

Not everyone agrees with Goldstein, including Lise Eliot, PhD, professor and acting discipline chair of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, Illinois.

"I've been very unimpressed with studies of human brain-sex differences," Eliot told Medscape Medical News, "because one can find a brain-sex difference that fits with any gender stereotype, particularly when it comes to psychiatric disorders. But these are all disorders that have gender-difference ratios. The paradox is that sex differences are relatively trivial compared to other sources of variance, like environment and genetics."

Eliot went on to explain that gender has played a far more important role in medical outcomes than has sex. "There is a lot of gender bias built into our medical system that is, I think, the basis for a lot of these health disparities," she said. "Psychiatric diagnoses are infused with the gender stereotype. And yet, the drive is to get money to study biologic differences."

Although the current state of sex-based research in co-occurring disorders of the heart and brain has a long way to go, there are signs of improvement. Goldstein herself has been integral to these changes throughout her career, though her biggest impact may have come in 2017, when she founded the Innovation Center on Sex Differences in Medicine (ICON). The center which boasts world-renowned experts from a variety of fields seeks to change the way the world understands heart-brain disorders using sex and gender lenses.

"We really want to try to change how medicine thinks," she said.

ICON's mandate recently took on new significance when the center was designated as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Specialized Center of Research Excellence on Sex Differences. The NIH grant will fund both basic science and clinical studies of the developmental origins of sex differences in depression and the dysregulation of cardiac function efforts, Goldstein hopes, that will ultimately open the door to the development of sex-dependent therapeutic strategies

"We have a number of projects that we're working on," Goldstein said. "For example, we're developing a clinical risk tool to help predict men and women in early mid-life who might be at risk for Alzheimer's disease later on. But the key is, we're developing it in a sex-dependent way."

Her coauthors are equally involved in similar undertakings. Langer currently serves as the director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. In that role, she heads an organization that seeks female-driven solutions to women's healthcare needs around the globe. She also serves as the director of global policies and programs for ICON.

"We look at the effect of policies and programs on the health of women and try to come up with ways to identify modifying factors that would allow us to improve the health of women through the life course," Langer explained.

Lesser, on the other hand, is the president of WomenAgainstAlzheimer's, a group that seeks to find, fund, and implement a cure for Alzheimer's disease with respect to the way the disease affects women.

There are other signs of progress as well. In 1993, the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act was enacted. Part of that legislation mandates that women and minorities who had been largely overlooked to that point need to be included in sufficient numbers in clinical research to receive NIH funding. The policy was amended to its current form in 2017.

Important advances have also been made in cardiovascular medicine, with women's cardiac health centers becoming more commonplace across the country. For Goldstein, these changes were an important first step in addressing the health differences between women and men. "Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US," she explained. "Nevertheless, women were getting into treatment later because their symptoms were not the same as the typical male symptoms. And they were dying as a result."

Multidisciplinary efforts for enhancing knowledge around sex differences will require cooperation between academics, industry, advocacy, and policy. Pharmaceutical companies, in particular, can play a big role in this revolution, the authors stress.

"The way it stands, pharmaceutical companies do not incorporate sex into the design of their studies," Goldstein said. "They may do a post hoc analysis to separate their data by sex, but that's not the same as testing a sex effect.

"Nevertheless, I believe there are many molecules sitting in companies' libraries that actually may be more effective in one sex than the other but were thought to be ineffective because the original studies were not designed by sex to test such differences," she added.

Despite the complexity of revamping the way an entire industry delivers its products and services, Goldstein and her colleagues believe the field of psychiatry is positioned to play an important role in the change, particularly with respect to the multimorbidity of MDD, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Of these disorders, MDD is often the first to emerge.

"It's very important to understand the shared early origins of these three diseases so we can target them and try to prevent them down the road," Goldstein said. "For example, if we know that sex differences in depression emerge just after puberty and we also know that these differences will place a person at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease later in life, why are we not targeting them earlier?"

The same holds true for Alzheimer's disease. "If we know that hypertension and depression are major independent risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, why are we not targeting them as soon as possible?" she added.

Richard S. Isaacson, MD, director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, agrees that this kind of precision medicine is desperately needed when it comes to preventing Alzheimer's disease. "I think we've made tremendous progress in our understanding of how cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease are in some ways inextricably linked," he said. "And I think physicians really have to understand the two are intertwined quite a bit.

"Nevertheless, we have to realize that people may look similar on the outside, but there's a lot of biologic and genetic differences on the inside," he continued. "Precision health is the future of medicine, and that's absolutely the case for Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease prevention."

Isaacson explained that this understanding has helped shape the way he approaches patients. "In the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic, I feel like I'm one third neurologist, one third preventive cardiologist, and one third primary care doctor," he said. "And I really believe that, because our panels for Alzheimer's prevention are the same ones that are used by my cardiologist colleagues."

Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, agrees, yet he recognizes that one specialty cannot tackle the issue of multimorbidity alone. The movement needs financial partners, as well as a pipeline of trained professionals from a variety of fields who prioritize these issues throughout their careers.

Research will also be key, he says, from basic science to translational studies. "Then we need to see if we can actually leverage basic biology and clinical research to develop therapies that account for sex differences," he said. "That's a vitally important area, because it hasn't really happened in any area of medicine to date." silver lining of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it seems to have increased recognition of the associations between sex, gender, and disease outcomes.

According to Smoller, one silver lining of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it seems to have increased recognition of the associations between sex, gender, and disease outcomes. Yet he feels the change may also be due to a confluence of science and culture.

"Often in medicine there's a convergence of factors that really elevate certain questions to become priorities," he explained. "One of them is advances in the science that allow them to be studied in a more fruitful way.

"At a societal level, it's always been controversial to what extent sex and gender play a role," he added. "But it's an issue that has now gathered more interest among a broader field."

"I think the devil is in the details when it comes to cardiovascular health and Alzheimer's disease coexistence," Isaacson added. "There needs to be a deeper dive and more collaborative efforts between preventive cardiologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, and endocrinologists. And we really need to work together to push the needle forward to truly have an impact."

"Things feel very different now than when I first started doing this," said Goldstein. "I think the context is different, and there's even a hunger for this from the public. I think we have a better chance of success now than ever before"

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In Disorders of the Heart and Brain, Does Sex Matter? - Medscape

One Case of a Rare Eye Cancer Was Weird. When 4 More Appeared, the Town Knew Something Wasn’t Right. – Mother Jones

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Meredith Legg Stapleton was was taking a shower one day when suddenly her left eye went dark, like a curtain falling. It was just a few months before her graduation from the University of South Carolina, Aiken, and Meredith, as a basketball star from Huntersville, North Carolina, knew that retinas could tear and thought hers might have. She was known as Mighty Warrior and Heavens Warrior, references to her athletic prowess and devout religious faith. She was on a scholarship and had the single-season record for consecutive free throws and her universitys all-time scoring record. But what happened in the shower threw her entire future into flux.

It was a point of no returnshed never regain sight in that eye. A visit to a local ophthalmologist on a Friday afternoon revealed a large tumor he suspected was ocular melanoma (OM). Meredith and her family then drove 13 hours that weekend to one of the leading OM treatment centers in the country: Wills Eye Hospital, which is part of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Oncologists confirmed the suspected diagnosis. The optimal treatment? Remove her eye.

OM is an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer; there are only about 2,500 cases each year in the United States. Doctors call it uveal melanoma, named after the uvea, a structure of the eye that contains the iris, the ciliary body that surrounds it, and the choroid, a vascular layer between the white of the eye and the retina. Melanoma cancers can start in any of these tissues, but the most dangerous and difficult to treat are in the ciliary body and choroid because tumors can grow invisibly there for years before detection. Thats where Merediths cancer appeared. Confined to the eye, OM doesnt kill. But half the time, the cancer spreads to the liver and, once it does, 80 percent of the cases are fatal within seven years, although the mortality rates vary. Some patients only survive five to 12 months after metastases; others have survived decades.

When Meredith heard the doctors recommendation, she announced that she had no intention of following orders, insisting she wanted them to do everything to save my eye. Merediths mother, Robin Legg, says, She was a take charge personality. She even read her own chart while awaiting her eye specialist. After further tests, the oncologist recommended radiation plaque therapy, a procedure that uses rice-size radioactive seeds contained within a gold or steel bowl (called a plaque) thats surgically implanted inside the eye socket for a week to deliver targeted radiation. Meredith slept 20 hours a day and described the pain as sticking an ice pick in the eye. A month later, wearing a patch over her left eye, she graduated cum laude with the class of 2009 and continued to work, volunteer coach, and play basketball.

Meredith Legg Stapleton and her father

Courtesy Robin Legg

While she was recovering from her treatment, Meredith got an unusual message. It was from Kenan Colbert Koll, a star swimmertwo years older than Meredithwho was also from Huntersville and attended the same school, Hopewell High School. Her note said that, despite the odds, she too had OM. Kenan first noticed blurry vision in her right eye in early 2009, two years after she had graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She went to an eye doctor in Charlotte who prescribed glasses, but the problem continued. A few weeks later, she went to Duke University, where a specialist examined her and delivered the devastating news: a dangerously large OM tumor had lodged inside her eye. He offered the same recommendation for standard treatment: removing the eye. Kenan took one breath and commanded, Take it out! She had her eye removed at Duke, but, like Meredith, went to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia for follow-up treatment once her cancer began to spread.

Meredith and Kenan became friends and collaborators, seeking new treatments and raising money for OM research. Meredith also coached Kenan on what to expect from her first appointment with Dr. Takami Sato, a medical oncologist at Wills Eye Hospital and one of the worlds top experts in OM treatment. At Wills, the doctors would give her an immunotherapy cocktail to knock back the cancer, Kenans father, Kenny Colbert, recalls, sitting in his family room near atabledominated by a wedding photo of Kenan, radiantly happy, wearing pearls and a ruched white dress. They would inject it in her femoral artery and if the tumors glowed it was working. Kenan brought her laptop into the treatment room each time intending to work, but shed just laugh and doze off, Kennysays. The next day shed get up and just go out and live her life.

Both young women did go out and live their lives.Kenan was married six months after her first eye surgery. The couple settled in Charleston and fixed up their first house while Kenan worked as an HR specialist at a flooring distributor. Meredith also married, in 2012, and even appeared on the reality TV show Say Yes to the Dress. She also appeared in Dear 16-Year-Old Me, a 2011 documentary on melanoma and the importance of early detection.

Kenan Colbert Koll with her father, Kenny.

Courtesy Sue Colbert

All the while, Meredith and Kenan also endured grim treatments and setbacks. They relied on their own little support group, continuing to swap insights about treatment and new information about the disease. Then, in late 2013, the support group grew: 19-year-old Summer Heath, another Hopewell High graduate, reached out to Meredith and Kenan through a friend on Facebook. Summer described the ordeal of blacking out from migraines in July 2013 and eventually losing sight in her right eye. A retinal specialist in Charlotte confirmed that she too had OM. When Summer and her parents consulted a local radiologist, he said he knew of two other girls from Hopewell High with the same disease. The three bonded immediately.

Well, it was weird: three girls from the same high school, and OM is an old mens disease and it doesnt happen to young girls, Summer recalls. We started talking and our families started talking andwe started to investigate.

By February 2014, Merediths cancer had spread. Thin and in pain, she nonetheless painted her nails Carolina blue with sparkles and put on a blue shawl to attend a UNCDuke basketball game with her husband and parents. Two days later she slipped into a coma. Two days after that, she died. She was 26 years old.

Kenan died four months later in May 2014just one month shy of her 29th birthday.

Summer was devastated. Its survivors guilt that I feel. My feeling was it should have been me, she says. Its been a really dark place to be, especially after Meredith and Kenan passed away. But soon, Summer recalls she found a reason to get through the guilt: two more young women in the Hopewell community who also had an OM diagnosis.

Meredith, Kenan, and Summer all lived within a few miles of each other in Huntersville, North Carolina, a suburb just north of Charlotte in Mecklenburg County; its one of the upscale communities dotting the 500 miles of shoreline surrounding Lake Norman.

Within the relatively young, prosperous population, news of Merediths and Kenans deaths spread fast in the summer of 2014. It turned out the young women werent isolated cases. By mid-2013 word was traveling on Facebook, and we started to pick up names of other young people [in our area] getting ocular melanoma, Kenny Colbert says. By August 2014, we had seven or eight names.

One of those names was Vicki Kerecman, who was diagnosed in 2011 in her early 30s. When Summer found her after both Meredith and Kenan had died, she says, Vicki was my sign not to give up, to continue the research. Then Summer found Courtney Benson, age 29, who got the same diagnosis that year. Neither of the women attended Hopewell High, but both lived within a few miles of the area.

By 2017, physicians would document a total of 18 OM cases among people who lived, worked, or spent time within a 15-mile radius of downtown Huntersville and northern Mecklenburg County. Nine of the first 12 victims identified would befemale, and sixwould be younger than 30. At least five would die from the disease. Today, depending on the vagaries of statistical reporting, patient disclosure, and spotty cancer registries, around two dozen people in the greater Mecklenburg and surrounding counties of Lake Norman in central North Carolina have been diagnosed with OM.

When Kenan was diagnosed we had never heard of ocular melanoma before, Colbert says. But then we heard about Summer Heath getting the disease, and then Courtney and Vicki. The research I pulled off the internet said the typical OM patient would be 50 years or older. It was off the charts for a female to get it. According to an oncology textbook, an excess risk of uveal melanoma has been reported in some studies in a variety of occupations such as welders, farmers, chemical workers, cooks, cleaners, and laundry workers, but there is no explanation for why. Clearly, young female athletes dont fit the demographic.

Summer Heath presented with a scholarship for Kenans Foundation by Kenny and Sue Colbert.

Courtesy Sue Colbert

Meanwhile, a similar mystery was unfolding in Auburn, Alabama, though this ocular melanoma outbreak appeared even more extensive. Juleigh Green, Ashley McCrary, Allyson Allred, and Lori Lee all attended Auburn University and three were sorority sisters in the late 1980s. Over the next 20 years, all implausibly developed OM. In 1999, when she was 27, Juleigh noticed bright flashes of light; she was diagnosed with OM in her left eye. At the time, she knew no one who had the cancer or could talk about it. Then in 2001, Allyson, then 31, also noticed bright flashes, and her doctor discovered a 10 mm OM tumor pressing on a detached retina. Both womens eyes were surgically removed. Then Ashley, whose husbands pet name for her was sweet eyes, discovered a spot on her iris in 2012. Her right eye was also taken.

Like Meredith, Kenan, and Summer, Ashley was treated at Wills Eye Hospital. When she described the crazy fact that she knew two other classmates with the exact same disease, Dr. Marlana Orloff, an ocular oncologist, was shocked. This isnt normal, Orloff told Ashley, noting that the Hopewell High School classmates had also come to Philadelphia for treatment. The fact that in two separate areas there were younger women who knew other young females with [OM] has really piqued our interest.

Summers mother, Janie Slusarick, had a similar experience when she accompanied her daughter on her first visit to Wills. When she told their doctor that three girls from the same high school had the same cancer, he froze. It was like a deer in the headlights, Slusarick recalls. The OM specialist noted that he was treating others with OM from Huntersville, along with a group of three women from Auburn, Alabama.

Dr. Miguel A. Materin, director of ophthalmic oncology and a specialist in radiation treatment of eye cancers at Duke Eye Center, also found the number and nature of cases concerning. Something is going on, but nobody knows the reasons, he says. Three girls from the same Huntersville High School? Thats not a coincidence. The same thing in Auburn, which may be even more interesting because of all these people who have some kind of relationship with the university there.

So why are all these young women contracting ocular melanoma? The question consumes victims and the OM community. Parents, desperate to discover anything in the environment that could explain what seems inexplicable, struggle to solve a medical mystery in which a tragic diagnosis is followed by questions, accusations, theories, the debunking of those theories, and, too frequently, death. Is it possible to discern a clue in the complicated mix of environmental hazards and genetics that has made these young women particularly vulnerable to disease?

OM is an illness that does not lend itself to clear causalities, like connecting cases of lung cancer to tobacco use. The rarity of the eye cancer has precluded deep studyand funding for research. Epidemiologists say its nearly impossible to nail a cancer like OM to a single risk factor. This is needle-in-the-haystack stuff: human genetics, immune systems, hormones, and environmental factors have complex interactions. One person exposed to chemical contaminants or high levels of radiation may never develop disease; others will. But that hasnt stopped efforts to try at least to narrow down areas of inquiry.

One key way to marshal support for research and treatment is to get whats known as a cancer cluster designation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC designates a cancer cluster as a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time. With the designation, more public money and research power is made available to find out whats going on; without it, opportunities both to understand the causes and the treatments for the disease become more difficult. Nonetheless, for complex reasons that are both legal and scientific, its almost impossible to pass the threshold of an official cancer cluster designation.

The few success stories that garner public attention read like industry-busting detective stories initiated by rookies. The classic example is Erin Brockovichs now-famous 1990s investigations showing that hexavalent chromium in the town of Hinkley, California, was triggering various cancers. Her work resulted in a class action lawsuit and settlement of $333 million against Pacific Gas & Electric. Public health officials today cite other outstanding cases of cancer cluster discovery, but the singular, dramatic successes in which an investigation actually uncovers common triggers have centered almost exclusively on infectious disease outbreaks, like Legionnaires disease or the discovery of how mercury poisoning was caused by contaminated fish.

Communities across the country raise around 1,000 or more cancer cluster alarms each year, according to the CDC. For the designation of an official cluster, epidemiologists compare observed numbers of cases of specific cancers against case records of the same disease in a similar setting with a similar demographic group. At least thats the goal. But comparisons with similar groups may be over a much larger geographic area, like an entire state. The CDCs website acknowledges it is possible to create or obscure a cancer cluster by selection of a specific [geographic] area. Time comparisons may also be a crucial variable. The five ocular melanoma cases among young women with connections to Hopewell High School cropped up between 2009 through 2013, whereas North Carolina state epidemiologists compared those numbers to expected cases in the area over 20 years.

Chris Nidel, a health and chemical exposures attorney in Washington, DC, calls this practice dilution because statistical models can be used to skew results by comparing cancer or infectious disease outbreaks in a single town or zip code against countywide or several county populations over much longer periods. Diluting your population means youre unable to see change at the level youre wanting to see plainly in a town where people get sick, he says, especially because cluster isnt the answer youre looking for. The real issue is: Is there something causing disease in your community?

Then there are the challenges of investigations themselves. Many cluster investigations are launched without clear objectivesusually in response to general community distress, writes Dr. Michael Goodman, an Emory University epidemiologist, in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology. The undesirable result is that cluster investigations of cancers that appear to arise in a given geographic area or in a given community have rarely, if ever, resulted in important discoveries.

Its exceedingly difficult to get local authorities to test environmental factors, and, as a result,public health officials havent had much success in linking suspected cancer outbreaks with environmental causes. First, soil and water testing isnt required in many states, including North Carolina, unless the sites specifically require permits for pollutant discharge under state and federal law. The investigations are extraordinarily hard to do, said Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones, a hydrologist. He lists a number of variables involving environmental factors as well as individual medical histories. These tests can very expensive, he noted, and you really do have to know what youre looking for.

The Clean Water Act requires the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to employ an Ambient Monitoring System whereby the state picks new sites every two years to look for water pollution, according to Jones. But there is no similar mandate for soil. Plus, there arent uniform regulations in either states or nationwide for testing for pollutants when townships build schools, neighborhoods, or commercial strips.

Making matters worse is a completely broken case tracking system. Public health officials rely on state cancer registries that are often incomplete and outdated. These registries do not track potential exposure to toxic sources, like polluted groundwater or dumping grounds for industrial waste. State cancer registries also typically use medical shorthand, documenting only the name and current address of the patient, as well as basic demographic information such as age, race, and gender. The tumor diagnosis is marked by code and staging (how far advanced the tumor is) along with initial treatment notes and where the patient lived when first diagnosed. Migration patterns of patients are almost never recorded. Registries dont include data on toxic exposure in a patients formative yearsseveral bad sunburns, say, or DDT sprays in the area. These flaws are evident with the Huntersville cases: Kenan and Meredith were counted only in a South Carolina registry, since that was where they were first diagnosed, even though they spent their high school years in Huntersville. Summer wasnt included in the North Carolina cancer registry when investigations took place in 2015 because her official data hadnt as yet caught up to registry databases.

National tracking is even worse for OM because of its comparative rarity. Other than an American Academy of Ophthalmology national registry, called the IRIS database, which records many kinds of ocular disease and their incidence rates, no national database has addressed ocular melanoma alone, although one has recently been created.

Even traditional methodology epidemiologists have relied on for their studies may be adding to the problem. In 2012, for example, MichaelGoodman, the Emory University epidemiologist, reviewed 428 cancer cluster investigations evaluating 567 suspected community outbreaks. Of those, only 72 clusters, or 13 percent, demonstrated an increased cancer incidence beyond what was expected for the community studied. Only three of the cluster investigations were actually linked, with variable degrees of certainty, to a hypothesized exposure to a specific environmental trigger, while only one investigation out of the 428 revealed a clear cause. With all this data, the limited results suggest that there may be a fundamental problem in how causality is framed, especially when it comes to identifying possible environmental triggers for health outcomes.

The challenges in cancer cluster designations have proved so daunting that Goodman and Judy S. LaKind, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland Medical School, assembled a workshop to review past cases and offer new approaches. In a 2014 report, the researchers cited statistical problems such as small sample sizes, uncertain definitions of cluster boundaries and populations, and a failure to record the in-and-out migration from a suspicious area by patients. Too many cluster studies, they found, also use imprecise descriptions of both disease states and potential environmental factors. For example, public health officials might use the term brain cancer to describe a specific diagnosis such as glioblastoma. The term ground water contamination might be reported instead of the specific levels of trichloroethylene, chloroform, or dioxins. Some suspected clusters are just too small to calculate, with exposures to toxins by the community poorly defined or undefined. Then theres the pace of the disease, known as latency. Cancers develop over a long period of timeoften a decade or moremaking associations with suspected toxins much more difficult to prove.

Because of the way North Carolina public health officials counted victims in their studies, the Huntersville cases didnt reach an official cluster incidence level, according to a 2015 state public health report. The families were left grieving and infuriated. Emotions ran even higher when an official cancer cluster was determined in Mooresville, just a few miles north of Huntersville on Lake Norman, when thyroid tumors appeared in as many as 260 local victims, most of them young women and teens as young as 13.The aggregate burden of investigating both outbreaks has produced community anger and cries for help from state legislators. To many residents, Lake Norman has become a cancer alley with too many industrial contaminants and too few public health resources to investigate and find answers.

The numbers just dont make sense, says Rob Kidwell, the father of a school-aged daughter in Huntersville. These are rare cancers that shouldnt be popping up and no one seems concerned.

Kenan Colbert Koll

Courtesy Sue Colbert

Meredith Legg Stapleton

Courtesy Robin Legg

When I meet with Kenan Colbert Kolls parents, Sue and Kenny Colbert, at their Georgian-style retreat tucked away in a verdant Huntersville neighborhood, were joined by Scot and Janie Slusarick and their daughter, SummerHeath. Its June 2018, and Summer, 24 years old and teaching second grade, is about to celebrate five years of surviving OM. Summer has a blog, Cupcake v Cancer, where she shares what has been happening to her. Entries about her care, like one from last yearI think the treatment is working though. The tumors on my head have been shrinking. That is an amazing reassuring sign that we are headed in the right direction!!are mixed with photographs of friendsand trips to Disney World. When Summer speaks, she expresses both sadness and a fierce will to live.

By that June, Summer had already made 23 trips to Philadelphia for plaque therapy, biopsies, painful injections, and lasers to destroy her tumor. Months of radiation were followed by a laser to kill any cells left, then a series of injections to stop macular swelling, followed again by laser treatment in 2016 to halt hemorrhaging in her eye, which had lost all vision. Our casesMerediths, Kenans, and mineare so similar, theres a bond there, she says. Its been hard on her family; her medical insurance had paid only a fraction of her bills. But it helped when her friends gave her hotel points so she and her family could stay in Philadelphia as an outpatient for the first 10-day course of treatment.

The Colberts and Slusaricks listen as she speaks before describing their arduous four-year journey of false hopes and dead ends as they tried to get local and state officials to take environmental testing seriously. In 2014, Scot Slusarick thought that one obviouscommon denominator was location: Three of the girls with OM attended Hopewell High and two young women in their 30s lived within a mile nearby. He lobbied public health and school officials for a physical sampling of the Hopewell High water, soil, radiation sources, and air, but officials declined his requests.

At the same time, Kenny Colbert was prodding the Mecklenburg County Health Department to initiate a cancer cluster study. In March 2014, just months before Kenan died, Colbert connected with the county health director, Dr. Marcus Plescia, who phoned OM victims, families, and school officials, asking questions about potential toxic exposures and lifestyles, like work as lifeguards, sunburns, a history of smoking, or use of artificial tanning beds. Nothing suspicious was found, according to the county health department office.

While the county inquiry stalled, Colbert enlisted Huntersville Township Commissioner Danny Phillips and former Commissioner Rob Kidwell, as well as his wifein his search for answers. The Kidwells, like Slusarick, pressed hard for physical tests of the air, water, building materials, and soil at Hopewell High. They also tried to survey the townships nearby to establish baseline pollution data, but there was no consensus on how to proceed, Kidwell recalls. The state said it was a county issue; the county said it was a state issue, and nothing got done,Colbert says. Eventually state epidemiologists told Colbert that five cases in your area over the last 20 years was normal. We have five people within a one-mile area right now, he countered, referencing Meredith and Kenan, who had already died, plus Summer, Vicki, and Courtney. The state said, We dont know about these five people. Theres no central registry.

But Colbert worked to bring attention to the cause in other ways. He called local TV reporter Jim Bradley, who started looking at whether state and county health officials acknowledged a potential problem. His first report aired in November 2014, and soon other Lake Norman community members claimed an OM diagnosis. Word started traveling and soon we had about 25 names within six to seven miles, Colbert reports. Following that publicity, in late September 2015, the Colberts, Slusaricks, and other members of the Huntersville community participated in a Lookin for a Cure 5K walk/run to benefit Dr. Takami Sato, director of the uveal melanoma treatment program at Wills Eye Hospital. Dr. Sato showed up at the Huntersville run, along with his son and Dr. Marlana Orloff, who had treated both the Huntersville and Auburn women. About 1,000 people participated in the event, which raised more than $55,000.

Beyond fundraising, the run proved crucial for another reason: Dr. Randall W. Williams, the deputy secretary of health services at North Carolinas Health and Human Services, was there. Williams had spoken with Colbert and decided he needed a clinical liaison to speak to OM parents in Lake Norman. The plan was to organize a consortium of Duke, Thomas Jefferson, and UNC, Chapel Hill, experts to figure out next steps for an exploratory study.

Williams selected Dr. Mike Brennan, a retired eye surgeon and colleague of his whod done overseas medical work in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. Randall called me about OM in Huntersville, says Brennan, who is also the former president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and he said, You know how to do ocular politics, can you help me? At the time, Brennan admitted he didnt know much about the Huntersville cases, but he agreed to sign on and organize a local registry of the Lake Norman OM patients. He told Williams the consortium should coordinate genetic testing of victims and, possibly, an environmental study of Huntersville.

As Brennan started contacting patients in late 2015, he found that patients were scattered in and around the counties surrounding Lake Norman. He almost immediately found at least three more young people in Huntersville and nearby Concord and Lincolnton, all near Lake Norman, who had reported the disease in the same timeframe, along with two older patients. But the process hit some snags: Some patients had privacy concerns and didnt want to be included in the registry. Counting cases was also difficult because there were people who were diagnosed before 2000, or their geography was wrong, or they were transients, Brennan says. But, he adds, the [patient] population grew as social media and the press publicized this. In the end, Brennan documented at least two dozen OM patients for his Lake Norman registry, although a few were excluded because their time and place of diagnosis didnt fit standard epidemiological requirements. UNC, Chapel Hill, found two more patients, one from Huntersville and another from Rock Hill, South Carolina, who had worked in Huntersville for five years. One of the last patients to be registered was Jessica Boesmiller, a mother in her late 30s whose OM was detected in late 2017, just weeks before delivering twins.

Meanwhile, officials at the North Carolina Department of Public Healths Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB) published a report in June 2015 on the OM cases. It concluded that other Lake Norman cases were random, albeit tragic, events. According to Kelly Haight Connor, a spokesperson for the state health department, An analysis of NC Central Cancer Registry (CCR) data in 2015 did not find a higher-than-expected number of ocular melanoma cases in Mecklenburg County, Huntersville or Huntersville/Cornelius from 20002013. (Physicians and epidemiologists from the state health department declined to be interviewed.) When the findings began to circulate, Huntersville parents were outraged.

Janie Slusarick called the OEEB report naive and embarrassing. There are two to three times the numbers of people affected here and the state report doesnt count them, she says. From my perspective, Brennan adds, I could tell that for good reasons, the community and parents had reason to expect more to be done.

The Slusaricks continued to press for environmental testing of the school. In 2016, facing pressure from the Huntersville community, the school system finally agreed to a first investigation of construction records and a visual inspection of Hopewell High School grounds by Hart & Hickman, a Charlotte-based environmental consulting firm. Nothing unusual was detected, and did H&H didnt recommend any soil or water tests for contamination, arguing its own chemical records search showed no single link to OM.

Scot Slusarick then pressed Charlotte-Mecklenburg facilities management to evaluate Hopewell Highs tons of imported fill dirt and building materials, but the department claimed that supervisors had already reviewed construction records when the high school was built in 2001. What about the paint? The ceilings? The lighting? he asked. Their entire investigation was a phone call. Janie pointed out that the area historically had copper mines and water tributaries running from them. She also noted that a mile and a half from school was a Piedmont liquefied natural gas storage facility, which could possibly be emitting harmful electrical pollutionsometimes known as dirty electricity. That too should have been evaluated, she says.

While environmental testing was stalled, Brennan believed that genetic testing might yield important clues. He coordinated a test of local victims to determine if anyone had the BAP1 gene mutation, a protein abnormality frequently associated with eye, skin, and kidney cancers. But all tests were negative. Even after experts from Columbia University, the New York Genome Center, and the University of Miamis Bascom Palmer Eye Institute participated in tumor tissue testing of six North Carolina patients, there was no smoking gun.

Another option was geospatial testing, which links patient activity and remembered traffic patterns with repeated exposure to toxic environmental sources such as radiation or air and water pollution. In 2017, Huntersville Township funded a study by an environmental consulting firm,Geodesy Inc., which specializes in geospatial testing. The remembered whereabouts and daily traffic patterns from 2000 to 2017 of 11 female and four male OM patients living within the Huntersville ZIP code was mapped and then correlated with township records that revealed various hot spots in Northern Mecklenburg County: an asbestos dumping site at Davidson Depot; a dry cleaning solvent clean-up site in Huntersville; several active hazardous waste storage facilities in the north; contaminated industrial sites in both Cornelius and Huntersville. It also showed the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls in Lake Norman, which provides public drinking water to Huntersville, and a concentration of high-tension power lines, cell towers, and power-generating stations in the vicinity.

The report stated, Without important clues, additional measures of air, soil, or water is not warranted. Still, Geodesy report director John Cassels called for further analysis of multiple sources, including Lake Norman public water. Both coal ash and nuclear radioactivity are common sources of pollution across all modern towns in the US, and coal ash often appears in water suppliesincluding Lake Norman. Avner Vengosh, a professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke Universitys Nicholas School of the Environment, has in fact documented coal-ash effluent in all the major lakes and streams connected to coal-fired power plants throughout North Carolina, including Lake Norman. But he notes that because of the lakes gargantuan size, dilution is large and the impact is small. Municipal water quality tests of the lake have not shown hazardous levels of any coal-ash chemicals or radioactivity.

Despite missing a clear culprit, Geodesy Incs director, John Cassells, admitshe was a little bit alarmed at some of the things their investigation found. Duke Energy, for example, had an unplanned release in 2008 of the hydrogen isotope tritium from its McGuire Nuclear Station near Huntersville,which amountedto 140,000 gallons of tritium-tainted waterflowing into Lake Norman.

While tritium is a radioactive compound found in nuclear reactors, Duke has regulatory permission to release tritium and other effluents into the Catawba River, which flows into Lake Norman. The unplanned leak, a Duke spokesperson wrote in an email, did not impact public or employee health and safety. Duke Energys director of government affairs, energy and the environment, Mark McIntire, says that tritium isnt dangerous in low doses and that Duke strictly follows toxicity-based standards for water quality established by EPA and North Carolinas Department of Environmental Quality. Bill Norton, a spokesperson from Duke Energy tells me, We have environmental discharge limits and have to report all that data to the nuclear regulatory commissionsThe Lake Norman water quality remains very good. In a later conversation he adds, Decades of environmental data at drinking water intakes show no impacts from our operations.

Tritium concentrations in Lake Norman remain below federal limits. Duke notes the calculated radiological impact of that leak on an individual was equivalent to .00005 milliremor just 1/10,000th of a dental X-ray. But Cassels is still concerned. There are several drinking water intakes downstream [from the McGuire Station] and no way to clear these compounds, he says. Even low concentrations of tritium may be more important in cancer than we originally thought.

There are some reasons for hope: The efforts to achieve a national and international registry of OM cases are rapidly coming to fruition. The Melanoma Research Foundation has created a new kind of patient-centric registry that will help disease detectives track the natural history of eye melanomas, including environmental risk patterns, treatments, and recovery. Dr. Sara Selig, a physician who directs Cure OM, the Melanoma Research Foundation initiative, explains, Whats hindered the research into some of these unique populations in the past is that you know someone who may have lived in one area and been diagnosed somewhere else, and theres not a single repository catching this information. Whats the unique factor? The person. She says that instead of the standard clinical data provided by physicians, a new repository will allow patients to enter remembered environmental exposure data, migration patterns, family histories, and responses to treatment across the lifecycle of the disease.

Academic researchers hope to find clues to OM causes in these records and in victims genomes. At Columbia Universitys Irving Medical Center, Dr. Richard Carvajal, a director of experimental therapeutics, is conducting a whole genome sequencing study of both the North Carolina and Alabama OM patients, examining tumor tissue for patterns of genetic damage. There are about 30 DNA damage signatures that have been characterized, and are pretty well accepted, says Dr. William Harbour, a consultant on the project and a genetics researcher at University of Miamis Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Harbour is optimistic; a genetic pattern may narrow down environmental causes and point to one or more smoking guns. Theres a lot of reasons to think this eye cancer isnt coincidental, he says. Some people are concerned with legal implications, and maybe they dont want to find [the answers]. But from a government standpoint, your best bet is to show youve made every reasonable effort to find the cause.

Even though the Huntersville community search for an OM cause seemed inconclusive, there is movement on attempts to get to the bottom of the Alabama cases. In August 2018, Auburn University also engaged Geodesy Inc. for a geospatial investigation. According to Cassels, the work has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it could still turn up some promising data. The geospatial analysis will dig into genetic, lifestyle, or environmental causes of the disease in the Auburn community. It will focus on the 25 surviving patients out of the 31 who were confirmed to have the disease and affiliated with the school from 1980 to 2019.

Ashley McCrary, the Auburn grad who was diagnosed with OM in 2012, says, The geospatial engineer is going to come in and ask a thousand questions to everybody [regarding remembered whereabouts, exposures, and life style habits] and pray that people will send the information back. Dr. John Mason, a retinal specialist based in Birmingham who treats many of the Auburn patients, is optimistic that this study, which includes more patients and looks at a longer time frame than past research, will also yield important clues.

Still, the Colberts and Slusaricks remain haunted by the painful question: How can public health officials be fully aware of these cancer outbreaks andnot know what to do? Back when Kenan was still alive, Kenny Colbert wanted to get the community riled up, to change the attitude of public health officials who seemed not to want to look more carefully at a problem that could make other young people sick. We needed to get people mad and scared about this, he says. We decided we should get some people embarrassed about this, about doing nothing or passing the buck.

The battle also continues forpatients like Summer Heath and Jessica Boesmiller, the young woman whose cancer was discovered just before she delivered twins.Summer shuttles back and forth to Wills Eye, as well as to Duke, for treatments, now for brain and spinal tumors. But she still keeps her blog. She still teaches second grade at Langtree Charter Academy Elementary School. And she recently celebrated seven years of survival since her diagnosis, as well as her 26th birthday.

Jessica also regularly travels to Wills, in between the demands of raising her four kids, to treat the cancer that has metastasized to her spine and liver. She reflects on her experience from two perspectives: first, as a fierce advocate for changing the usual approaches to understanding the cause of this devastating disease. Everyone investigating ocular melanoma is too worried about liability to say what the cause could be without [assembling] clear evidence, she says. But I want full disclosurefull access and open testing of the environment. If the old ways of finding out whats wrong dont work, find a new way. This cluster is just too coincidental to be a coincidence.

At the same time, Jessica has the perspective of a young woman, a daughter, a wife, and a mother whose life has been unalterably changed and defined by her battle with OM. People ask how I feel and its difficult to express sometimes. My family sees the pain and lack of energy and physical strength. They see the tiredness and nausea. They miss the old me, Jessica says, and I really do.

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One Case of a Rare Eye Cancer Was Weird. When 4 More Appeared, the Town Knew Something Wasn't Right. - Mother Jones

This years SN 10 scientists aim to solve some of sciences biggest challenges – Science News

In the midst of a pandemic that has brought so much worry and loss, its natural to want to helpto do some small part to solve a problem, to counter pain, or to, importantly, remind others that there is beauty and wonder in the world. Scientists have long been doing just that. Many are chasing answers to the myriad challenges that people face every day, and revealing the rewards in the pursuit of knowledge itself. Its in that spirit that we present this years SN 10: Scientists to Watch.

For the sixth consecutive year, Science News is featuring 10 early- and mid-career scientists who are pushing the boundaries of scientific inquiry. Some of the researchers are asking questions with huge societal importance: How do we prevent teen suicide? What are the ingredients in wildfire smoke that are damaging to health? Is there a better way to monitor earthquakes to save lives? What about finding new ways to diagnose and treat diseases?

Others are trying to grasp how weird and wonderful the natural world isfrom exploring how many supermassive black holes are out there in space to understanding the minuscule genetic details that drive evolution. For instance, SaraH Zanders, one of this years SN10, is unveiling the drama that unfolds when life divvies up its genetic material.

A couple of the scientists on this years list have also taken steps to support people from groups that are underrepresented in the sciences. These researchers see how science benefits when people from diverse backgrounds contribute to the pursuit of answers.

Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox

All of this years honorees are age 40 and under, and all were nominated by Nobel laureates, recently elected members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences or previous SN 10 scientists. The world feels very different than it did at the start of 2020, when we first put out our call for SN 10 nominations, but the passion these scientists have for their work endures. The curiosity, creativity and drive of this crew offers hope that we can overcome some of our biggest challenges.

Though it often takes time, out of crisis comes action. Also out of crisis comes a renewed appreciation for small pleasures that give life meaning. These researchers find joy in the search for scientific answers. Heres how Zanders describes what motivates her work: Its just I like to solve puzzles. ElizabethQuill

Affiliation: Dartmouth CollegeHometown: Dhaka, BangladeshFavorite black hole: Cygnus X-1

Tonima Tasnim Ananna is bringing the heaviest black holes out of hiding. She has drawn the most complete picture yet of black holes across the universe where they are, how they grow and how they affect their environments. And she did it with the help of artificial intelligence.

As far as astronomers can tell, nearly every galaxy stows a black hole at its center, weighing millions or billions of times the mass of the sun. Though these supermassive black holes can heat surrounding material until it glows brighter than all the galaxys stars combined, the light can be concealed by gas and dust also drawn in by the black holes pull. High-energy X-rays cut through that dusty veil. So for her Ph.D., completed in 2019, Ananna gathered surveys from four X-ray telescopes, more datasets than any previous study had used. Her goal was to create a model of how black holes grow and change across cosmic history. It was supposed to be a short paper, Ananna says. But models that explained one or a few of the datasets didnt work for the full sample. It stumped us for some time.

To break the gridlock, she developed a neural network, a type of artificial intelligence, to find a description of the black hole population that explained what all the observatories saw. She just went off and taught herself machine learning, says astrophysicist Meg Urry of Yale University, Anannas Ph.D. adviser. She doesnt say, Oh, I cant do this. She just figures out a way to learn it and do it. One early result of the model suggests that there are many more active black holes out there than previously realized.

Black holes could be gobbling down gas as fast as theoretically possible.

Galaxies live and die by their black holes. When a black hole puts out energy into the galaxy, it can cause stars to form, Ananna says. Or it could blow gas away, shutting down star formation and stunting the galaxys growth (SN: 3/31/20). So understanding black holes is key to understanding how cosmic structures everything from galaxy clusters down to planets and perhaps even life came to be. Anannas model is built on data describing black holes at different cosmic distances. Because looking far in space is like looking back in time, the model shows how black holes grow and change over time. It could also help figure out how efficiently black holes eat. Early hints suggest black holes could be gobbling down gas as fast as theoretically possible, which may help explain how some got so big so fast (SN: 3/16/18).

When Ananna was a 5-year-old in Dhaka, Bangladesh, her mother told her about the Pathfinder spacecraft landing on Mars. Her mother was a homemaker, she says, but was curious about science and encouraged Anannas curiosity, too. Thats when I realized there were other worlds, she says. Thats when I wanted to study astronomy. There were not a lot of opportunities to study space in Bangladesh, so she came to the United States for undergrad, attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She chose an all-womens school not known for a lot of drinking to reassure her parents that she was not going abroad to party. Although Ananna intended to keep her head down and study, she was surprised by the social opportunities she found. The women at Bryn Mawr were fiercely feminist, articulate, opinionated and independent, she says. It really helped me grow a lot. Traveling for internships at NASA and CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, and a year at the University of Cambridge, boosted her confidence. (She did end up going to some parties no alcohol for me, though.)

Now, Ananna is giving back. She cofounded Wi-STEM (pronounced wisdom), a mentorship network for girls and young women who are interested in science. She and four other Bangladeshi scientists who studied in the United States mentor a group of 20 female high school and college students in Bangladesh, helping them find paths to pursue science. LisaGrossman

Affiliation: Texas Tech UniversityHometown: Rome, ItalyFavorite telescope: Very Large Array, New Mexico

On September 3, 2017, Alessandra Corsi finally saw what she had been waiting for since mid-August: a small dot in her telescope images that was the radio afterglow of a neutron star collision. That stellar clash, discovered by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory team, or LIGO, which included Corsi, was the first direct sighting of a neutron star collision (SN: 10/16/17). The event, dubbed GW170817, was also the first of any kind seen in both gravitational waves and light waves.

Telescopes around the world spotted all kinds of light from the crash site, but one particular kind, the radio waves, took their sweet time showing up. Corsi had been waiting since August17, when the gravitational waves were spotted. Longest two weeks of my life, Corsi says. The radio waves were key to understanding a superfast particle jet launched by the colliding stars.

Early on, the jet appeared to have been smothered by a plume of debris from the collision (SN: 12/20/17). But follow-up radio observations made by Corsis team and others confirmed that the jet had punched through the wreckage (SN: 2/22/19). This jet was the first of its kind to be seen from the side, allowing Corsi and colleagues to probe its structure. The jet almost certainly would have gone unnoticed if the gravitational waves hadnt clued astronomers in.

Corsi is a pioneer in the new field of multimessenger astronomy, which pairs observations of light waves with spacetime ripples, or gravitational waves. The pairing is like having eyes and ears on the cosmos, Corsi says. You cannot learn all that you could with only one of the two. In the case of GW170817, gravitational waves revealed how the neutron stars danced around each other as they spiraled toward collision, and light waves unveiled the type of material left in the aftermath (SN: 10/23/19). Using this multimessenger approach could also give astronomers a more complete picture of other cataclysms, such as smashups between neutron stars and black holes, and the explosive deaths of massive stars. Such spectacular events reveal some of the most fundamental physics in our universe, Corsi says.

If gravitational wave signals were converted into sound, they would create their own kind of music.

Most researchers specialize in either gravitational waves or light, but Corsi is very well-versed in both messengers, says Wen-fai Fong, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. That makes her extremely versatile in terms of the types of multimessenger science she can study.

Corsi has now built a computational tool to scan LIGO data for gravitational waves stirred up by whatever is left behind in a neutron star merger. The tool is based on a paper she published in 2009 years before LIGO scored its first gravitational wave detection (SN: 2/11/16). The paper describes the gravitational wave pattern that would signal the presence of one possible remnant: a rapidly spinning, elongated neutron star. Alternatively, a neutron star smashup could leave behind a black hole. Knowing which tells us a lot about how matter behaves at densities way higher than we could ever explore in a lab, Corsi says.

Corsi taught herself to play the piano in high school, and now enjoys playing both classical music and tunes from favorite childhood movies, like Beauty and the Beast. The audio frequencies of piano notes are similar to the frequencies of spacetime tremors picked up by LIGO. If gravitational wave signals were converted into sound, they would create their own kind of music. Thats the thing I like to think of when Im playing, she says. MariaTemming

Affiliation: Colorado State UniversityHometown: Richmond, R.I.Favorite outdoor activities: Cross-country skiing and gardening

Emily Fischer has always cared about air pollution. Its innate. Its a calling, she says. Exposure to air pollution raises your risk for many common ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes and obesity. But unlike some other risk factors for these diseases, you cant choose not to breathe, right? You have to have clean air for everyone. In her youth, she organized rallies to clean up the cigarette smokefilled air of her Rhode Island high school. That interest led Fischer to study atmospheric chemistry and motivates her current work as a self-described air pollution detective. Air pollution may conjure images of thick black plumes billowing from smokestacks, but Fischer says most air pollution is invisible and poorly understood. She combines analytical chemistry with high-flying techniques to understand where air pollution comes from and how it changes as it moves through the air.

Wildfire smoke like that filling the skies in the American West this season is a major, but still mysterious, source of air pollution. Thousands of different solids, liquids and gases swirl together to form wildfire smoke, and its chemical composition changes as it blows through the atmosphere. This dynamic mixture, which is also affected by whats burning on the ground, is tricky to measure, since each of its many components requires highly specialized equipment and expertise to assess. The equipment also has to be airborne, typically lofted into the air via planes or balloons. There has been beautiful work on wildfire smoke, Fischer says, but in most studies, we just have not had all the measurements needed to really interpret things.

You cant choose not to breathe, right? You have to have clean air for everyone.

To get a fuller view, she dreamed big: Why not try to measure everything, and measure it systematically? She pulled together a diverse team of 10 lead researchers, and scores more graduate students and postdocs, to pull off the most comprehensive analysis of wildfire smoke ever attempted, a project dubbed WE-CAN. During the summer of 2018, Fischer led over a dozen six-hour flights over the West, chasing wildfire smoke plumes and systematically measuring the air in and around smoke plumes with nearly 30 different instruments crammed into the cargo hold of a C-130 plane.

[WE-CAN] is a big collaboration, says Ronald Cohen, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. He says success stemmed in large part from the team that came together.

Making an environment for successful collaboration is really satisfying to me, Fischer says.

While team members are still analyzing the data, the project is already revealing some of the smokes secrets. For example, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide two chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems are abundant in wildfire smoke. Recent wildfires show how important it is to understand the role of climate change in fires, Fischer says, and who is most vulnerable in our society, and how we can best prepare and protect those communities.

Fisher is also planning to adapt some of what shes learned from WE-CAN to track ammonia emissions from farms and feed lots, which are another major source of air pollution.

Fischer is deeply committed to bringing more undergraduate women, especially women of color, into the geosciences. And shes using science to figure out how. She brought a team of social scientists and geoscientists together to study how different interventions can help. She and colleagues found that for every female role model a student has, her probability of continuing on in her geosciences major roughly doubles. Having someone to look up to who looks like them is key to building a sense of belonging and identity as a scientist, Fischer says. To help build that network, Fischer started PROGRESS, a workshop and mentorship program that aims to support undergraduate women in the geosciences. Started at Colorado State University in 2014, the program has since expanded, reaching over 300 women at institutions across the United States.

For her own mentees, Fischer tries to instill a willingness to take risks and go after big, bold questions. The easy things are done, she says. Pushing forward our understanding of pressing questions means chasing research projects that might lead nowhere, she says, or might crack open a new field of research. Its OK to be wrong, and its OK to take risks. Thats what science needs right now. JonathanLambert

Affiliation: University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignHometown: Mumbai, IndiaFavorite element:Gold

Prashant Jain explores how light interacts with matter such as how plants use sunlight to photosynthesize and applies that knowledge to new problems. He recently took lessons from nature to convert carbon dioxide into other useful molecules. In a paper last year in Nature Communications, Jain and Sungju Yu, also at Illinois at the time, reported using gold nanoparticles as a catalyst to drive chemical reactions between carbon dioxide and water.

When light hit the nanoparticles, it set off a series of reactions that converted carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels such as methane and propane. In essence, the process not only sucked carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas out of the air, but it also made that carbon into fuel. No wonder the oil giant Shell is funding Jains work. The whole process isnt very efficient, so Jain is working to improve how much carbon dioxide gets used and how much fuel gets produced. But along the way he hopes to learn more about how nature uses energy to make matter and to inspire his lab to create more sustainable and renewable energy technologies.

I am myself still a student.

In another example of using chemistry to push toward future technologies, Jain and colleagues shined light on gold and platinum nanoparticles and triggered reactions that liberated hydrogen from ammonia molecules. Hydrogen is important in many industries fuel cells for zero-carbon vehicles use it, for example but it can be dangerous to transport because its flammable. Jains discovery could allow workers to transport ammonia instead, which is safer, and then free the hydrogen from the ammonia once it has arrived wheres it needed. The work was reported online in July in Angewandte Chemie.

Jain has a remarkable ability and optimism to see unsuccessful laboratory experiments as successful steps toward understanding the natural world, says Karthish Manthiram, a chemical engineer at MIT. As a first-year graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Manthiram remembers being frustrated that his experiments werent turning out as expected. But Jain, a postdoctoral fellow in the same lab, stepped in to helpand recast the problematic results. Hes always viewed what others see as failure as moments of clarity that build up to moments when things make more sense, Manthiram says. For me that was an important lesson in how to be a scientist.

Growing up in a family that worked mostly in business and finance, Jain fell in love with science as a preteen inspired in part by watching the movie Jurassic Park and its fictional depiction of what might be possible through understanding the molecular world. Soon he spotted a physics textbook for sale from a street vendor and bought it. I tried to read the book, nothing much made sense, he says. I wanted to be the one to figure out all these mysteries of nature. He chose to major in chemical engineering in college (inspired in part by a magazine published by the chemical company DuPont), and then switched to physical chemistry when he moved to the United States to get a Ph.D.

Promoted this year to full professor, Jain has never stopped pushing to acquire new knowledge; when he finished teaching this last spring semester, he enrolled in an online MIT course on quantum information science. I am myself still a student, he says. AlexandraWitze

Affiliation: Indiana UniversityHometown: Houston, TexasFavorite fieldwork: Observing rituals

Between 2000 and 2015, at a high school of about 2,000 students in the town of Poplar Grove (a pseudonym), 16 former and current students died by suicide; three other similar-aged individuals in the community, mostly at private schools, also took their own lives. A clinician who had grown up in the town reached out to Anna Mueller for help breaking the cruel cycle. Before that e-mail in fall 2013, Mueller was using big data to understand why teen and young adult suicide rates in the United States were spiking. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that suicides among 10- to 24-year-olds jumped 56 percent between 2007 and 2017.

Scholars theorized that suicidal people attracted other suicidal people. But Muellers work undercut that idea. In 2015 in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, for instance, she reported that merely having a suicidal friend did not increase a teens suicide risk. A teens risk only went up with awareness that a teenage friend had made a suicide attempt. Knowledge of the attempt matters to transformingrisk, Mueller says. She carried an understanding of that contagion effect to Poplar Grove, where she worked with sociologist Seth Abrutyn of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the half of the duo who is more focused on the theoretical.

Anna Muellers long-term goal is to create a sort of litmus test that identifies schools that could be at risk of a suicide cluster.

The team conducted 110 interviews and focus group meetings, lasting from 45 minutes to four hours, with Poplar Grove residents, plus some individuals outside the community for comparison. The teams research revealed that teens felt an intense pressure to achieve in their affluent, mostly white town, where everybody seemed to know everyone else. While teens and young adults in a first wave of suicides might have had mental health problems, peers and community members often attributed those deaths to the towns pressure cooker environment. That narrative, however incomplete, was especially strong when the youth who killed themselves were classic overachievers. Tragically, over time, that script became embedded in the local culture, making even youth who werent previously suicidal see suicide as a viable option (SN: 4/3/19), Mueller says.

Mueller and Abrutyn were among the first researchers to start chipping away at the underlying reasons for why suicide rates have been rising in high schoolers, particularly overachieving girls without obvious underlying mental health problems, says Bernice Pescosolido, a sociologist at Indiana University in Bloomington who helped bring Mueller into the schools sociology department. What Anna and Seth have really been able to show is how imitation works and what the contagion effect looks like on the ground.

Muellers long-term goal is to create a sort of litmus test that identifies schools that could be at risk of a suicide cluster. That way, school and community leaders can intervene before the first suicide and its resulting firestorm. Since fall 2018, she has been researching suicide trends in school districts in Colorado that are more diverse than Poplar Grove. When it comes to school culture, her early work shows, theres often a trade-off between academic or athletic excellence and a supportive environment.

In anticipation of her work in Poplar Grove, Mueller knew she needed a more boots-on-the-ground approach than her big data training allowed. So she trained in qualitative methods, including how to design a study; interview techniques, such as how to write questions to elicit desired conversations; and the detailed data analysis required for this research tactic.

Mueller also sees the value in observing interactions, a common sociological approach. This spring, with the pandemic in full swing, she spent a lot of time on her home computer watching socially distant graduation ceremonies in her Colorado schools. She found that a schools culture showed in the details, such as whether valedictorians addressed hot-button issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, in their speeches. Of all of my moments in the field, rituals are the ones that tug at my own heartstrings because Im watching kids graduate and thats just inherently beautiful, but it also is a very powerful data moment, she says. SujataGupta

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Affiliation: MITHometown: Adelaide, AustraliaFavorite subatomic particle: The gluon

When Phiala Shanahan was a graduate student, she was shocked to learn that experiments disagreed on the size of the proton (SN: 9/10/19). Protons and neutrons are the key building blocks of 99 percent of the visible matter in the universe, she says. And we know, in some sense, surprisingly little about their internal structure.

If theres something I dont understand, Im extremely stubborn when it comes to figuring out the answer.

That ignorance inspires her studies. She aims to calculate the characteristics of protons and neutrons based on fundamental physics. That includes not just their size, but also their mass and the nature of their components how, for example, the quarks and gluons that make them up are sprinkled around inside. Such calculations can help scientists put the standard model, the theory that governs elementary particles and their interactions, to the test.

Shanahan is known for her prowess calculating the influence of gluons, particles that carry the strong force, which binds the proton together. For example, when gluons contributions are included, the proton is squeezed to a pressure greater than estimated to exist within incredibly dense neutron stars, she and a coauthor reported in Physical Review Letters in 2019. Its a very remarkable calculation, says physicist Volker Burkert of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Va. Thats very fundamental, and its the first time it has been done. Because they have no electric charge, gluons tend to elude experimental measurements, and that has left the particles neglected in theoretical calculations as well. Shanahans gluon results should be testable at a new particle collider, the Electron-Ion Collider, planned to be built at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton, N.Y. (SN: 4/18/17).

Persistence. I hate not knowing something, she says. So if theres something I dont understand, Im extremely stubborn when it comes to figuring out the answer.

A technique called lattice QCD is the foundation for Shanahans work. Its named for quantum chromodynamics, the piece of the standard model that describes the behavior of quarks and gluons. QCD should allow scientists to predict the properties of protons and neutrons from the bottom up, but the theory is incredibly complex, making full calculations impossible to perform even on the best available supercomputers. Lattice QCD is a shortcut. It breaks up space and time into a grid on which particles reside, simplifying calculations. Shanahan is leading efforts to use machine learning to rev up lattice QCD calculations putting her persistence to good use. We dont have to rely on computers getting better. We can have smarter algorithms for exploiting those computers, she says. She hopes to speed up calculations enough that she can go beyond protons and neutrons, working her way up to the properties of atomic nuclei. EmilyConover

Affiliation: CaltechHometown: Kolomna, RussiaFavorite protein: He cant pick just one

Mikhail Shapiro believes that in the future, were going to have smart biological devices that are roaming our bodies, diagnosing and treating disease something akin to the submarine in the 1966 classic sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage. As the shrunken sub entered and repaired the body of a sick scientist, commanders on the outside helped control it. Similarly, were going to want to talk to the cells that we are going to send into the body to treat cancer, or inflammation, or neurological diseases, Shapiro says.

Shapiro and his colleagues are working on building, watching and controlling such cellular submarines in the real world. Such a deep view inside the body might offer clues to basic science questions, such as how communities of gut bacteria grow, how immune cells migrate through the body or how brains are built cell by cell.

Despite his futuristic visions, Shapiro is often drawn to the past. I like science history a lot, he says. Right now, hes in the middle of rereading the Pulitzer Prizewinning The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Just before that, he read a biography of Marie Curie.

There is not a protein that I learn about that I dont think about ways to misuse it, Shapiro says. But hes especially fond of the proteins that build the outer shell of gas vesicles in certain kinds of bacteria. These microscopic air bags have so many uses that were totally unanticipated, Shapiro says.

In addition to letting bacteria sink or float, these bubbles provide a communication system, Shapiro and colleagues have found. Over the last several years, they have coaxed both bacterial cells and human cells to make gas vesicles and have placed such cells within mice. Because the air-filled pockets reflect sound, the engineered cells can be tracked from outside a mouses body. Using patterns of sound waves, the researchers can also drive bacterial cells around in lab dishes.

There is not a protein that I learn about that I dont think about ways to misuse it.

In another nod to Fantastic Voyage, scientists can weaponize these cellular submarines. Weve essentially turned cells into suicide agents triggered by ultrasound, Shapiro says. This explosion could release chemicals into the surroundings and destroy nearby cells. This sort of targeted detonation could be damaging to tumors, for instance. Complete warfare is possible, he says.

By seeing the potential in these esoteric gas vesicles, Shapiro was ahead of his time and hugely innovative, says Jason Lewis, a molecular imaging scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. I think weve only scratched the surface of what his work will do in terms of a greater impact.

Frustration, Shapiro says, is what made him switch to engineering after studying neuroscience as an undergraduate at Brown University in Providence, R.I. He realized that existing tools for studying processes inside the brain fell short. And I didnt see enough people making better tools.

But he didnt stop at developing new neuroscience technologies. Oddly enough, once I got into the engineering part of things, I got so fascinated with weird proteins, and magnetic fields, and sound waves, and all the more physics-y side of things. Thats become as much, if not more, of my passion as the original neuroscience. In his Twitter bio, Shapiro describes his expertise as succinctly as possible: Bio-Acousto-Magneto-Neuro-Chemical Engineer at Caltech. LauraSanders

Affiliation: Stanford UniversityHometown: Nanjing, ChinaFavorite organism: Planarian

Planarians are the most charismatic of all flatworms, Bo Wang says. They have this childish cuteness that people just love. But the adorable facade isnt what drew Wang to study the deceptively simple worms, which resemble little arrows with eyes. It was planarians superpower: regeneration. Slice a planarian into pieces and, within a week or two, each chunk will grow into a new flatworm head and all. Studying the cells that drive this process could offer lessons for turning on regeneration in human tissues, to treat various diseases, regrow limbs and grow organs for next-generation transplants.

Wang uses statistical physics to figure out how planarians regenerate entire organs cell by cell. Newly formed brain cells, for instance, must physically position themselves to avoid turning into amorphous aggregates, Wang says. His interest in how things fit together began in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, Wang trained as a physicist and worked on self-assembling materials. Wang now works to uncover the physical rules that living cells follow. Im fascinated by how molecules arrange themselves seemingly randomly, but there are still statistical rules that those molecules will follow, he says.

Bo Wang works to uncover the physical rules that living cells follow.

His physics-based approach is raising new questions and unveiling biological processes that would be hard for biologists to come by using traditional methods alone, says regeneration biologist Alejandro Snchez Alvarado of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo. Wang is a new breed of flatworm biologist, Snchez Alvarado says. He is occupying a very unique niche in the community of developmental biology.

Wang and colleagues recently found that nerve cells, or neurons, in regenerating planarian brains form a predictable pattern dictated by the types of cells in their midst. Planarians brains are akin to cities made up of neighborhoods of neurons. Within each neighborhood, no two neurons that do the same job will live next to each other; those cells repulse each other but stay close enough to communicate, the researchers reported in the May Nature Physics. Because of this behavior, increasing the types of neurons in a neighborhood limits the ways cells can pack together. The team dubbed this packing process chromatic jamming, after a famous mathematical puzzle called the four-color problem (SN: 3/6/09).

The finding is surprising and challenges what we think we understand about organogenesis and about organization of cells within an organ, says Snchez Alvarado. Chromatic jamming appears to be key to how the planarian brain comes together, guiding single cells into neighborhoods that are a driving force in organ development, he says. If similar physical rules apply to human cells, that could help scientists sketch blueprints for engineering and growing artificial organs. CassieMartin

Affiliation: Stowers Institute for Medical ResearchHometown: Glenwood, IowaFavorite organism: Fission yeast

An invitation to work in the lab of her genetics professor Robert Malone at the University of Iowa in Iowa City set SaraH Zanders on the path to becoming a scientist. It was a turning point in my life, Zanders says. Before that, she didnt really know how she would put her biology degree to use, or what it meant to be a scientist. In Malones lab, she fell in love with meiosis, the process by which organisms divvy up genetic information to pass on to future generations. The first step is julienning the genome and swapping pieces of chromosomes. That just seems like such a bad idea to basically shred your [DNA] in the process of getting it from one generation to the next, she says. She started studying the proteins involved in making the cuts. It was like I was born to do that. I never would have known without that push.

A different kind of push led Zanders to spell her first name with a capital H: An elementary school teacher kept leaving the letter off. Zanders has capitalized it for emphasis ever since. If I write it without the big H, it doesnt look like my name anymore, she says. It feels like somebody else.

Meiosis is full of conflict. For her postdoctoral work, Zanders focused on a particular type of dustup caused by some selfish genesgenes that propagate themselves even if it hurts the host. As the monk Gregor Mendel laid out in his study of pea plants, a particular version of a gene typically has a 50-50 chance of being passed on to the next generation. But the selfish genes Zanders was studying, a type called meiotic drivers because they propel themselves during meiosis, manage to get themselves inherited far more often. These kinds of systems do a complete end run around Mendels laws, says Daniel Barbash, an evolutionary geneticist at Cornell University.

In Schizosaccharomyces pombe, also called fission yeast, Zanders discovered, a family of selfish genes makes moves that would be right at home in a Game of Thrones story line. Zanders and colleagues were the first to work out the molecular tricks that thesegenes use to skirt Mendels laws, reporting the findings in eLife in 2017. The genes, known as wtf genes, produce both a poison and an antidote. All of the spores the yeasts gametes get the poison, but only those that inherit certain gene versions also get an antidote. Spores that dont get the antidote die, ensuring that only offspring with specific wtf gene versions survive to pass their genes on to the next generation. For the fission yeast, such predatory tactics can have big consequences, even driving two nearly identical strains toward becoming different species. Some selfish genes have made themselves essential for proper development (SN: 7/3/18). In humans and other animals, genetic conflicts may lead to infertility.

For the fission yeast, such predatory tactics can have big consequences, even driving two nearly identical strains toward becoming different species.

This extremely important family of meiotic cheaters has been just sitting in plain sight waiting for somebody who had the right kind of lens and the care to discover them, says Harmit Malik, an evolutionary geneticist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and Zanders postdoctoral mentor. Zanders helped build a case that the skewed inheritance in these yeast was a real effect, not just fluctuations in the data. Before she began her work, virtually nothing was known about meiotic drivers in yeast. Now the wtf genes are among the best known meiotic drivers studied in any lab organism. Some selfish genes in worms also use the poison-antidote trick to beat the competition (SN: 5/11/17). Meiotic drivers in fruit flies, mice and maybe humans win genetic conflicts by other means (SN: 10/31/17; SN: 2/24/16).

Zanders is now on the lookout for other genetic fights in yeast. Understanding such conflicts more generally may help answer big questions in evolution, as well as shedding light on human infertility. As for what motivates her, Its just I like to solve puzzles, Zanders laughs. I wish it was a deep desire to help people, but its definitely not that. TinaHesmanSaey

Affiliation: CaltechHometown: Jinzhai County, ChinaFavorite hobby: Carpentry

As the Rose Parade wound through Pasadena, Calif., on January 1, 2020, Zhongwen Zhan listened to the underground echoes of the marching bands and dancers. With a sensitive technology known as distributed acoustic sensing, or DAS, Zhan tracked the parades progress. He even identified the most ground-shaking band. (It was the Southern University and A&M Colleges Human Jukebox.)

The study was a small but elegant proof of concept, revealing how DAS is capable of mapping out and distinguishing among small seismic sources that span just a few meters: zigzagging motorcycles, the heavy press of floats on the road, the steady pace of a marching band. But Zhan seeks to use the technology for bigger-picture scientific questions, including developing early warning systems for earthquakes, studying the forces that control the slow slide of glaciers and exploring seismic signals on other worlds.

Zhan has a crystal-clear vision of DAS scientific possibilities, says Nate Lindsey, a geophysicist at Stanford University who is also part of the small community of researchers exploring the uses of DAS. When you get such a cool new tool, you like to just apply it to everything, he adds. But Zhans expertise is very deep, and it goes into many different areas. He knows whats important.

So far, Zhan and other researchers have used the technology to study aftershocks following the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes in Southern California (SN: 7/12/19), to demonstrate that interactions between ocean waves produce tiny quakes beneath the North Sea, and to examine the structure of glaciers.

DAS piggybacks off the millions of fiber-optic cables that run beneath the ground, ferrying data for internet service, phones and televisions (SN: 6/14/18). Not all of the glass cables are in use all of the time, and these strands of dark fiber can be temporarily repurposed as seismic sensors. When pulses of light are fired into the fibers ends, defects in the glass reflect the light back to its source. As vibrations within the Earth shift and stretch the fibers, a pulses travel time also shifts.

Whole networks of seismic sensors could be deployed in places currently difficult or impossible to monitorat the ocean bottom, atop Antarctic glaciers, on other planets.

Over the last few years, scientists have begun testing the effectiveness of these dark fibers as inexpensive, dense seismic arrays which researchers call DAS to help monitor earthquakes and create fine-scale images of the subsurface. In these settings, Zhan notes, DAS is proving to be a very useful supplement to existing seismograph networks. But the potential is far greater. Whole networks of sensors could be deployed in places currently difficult or impossible to monitor at the bottom of the ocean, atop Antarctic glaciers, on other planets. Seismology is a very observation-based field, so a seismic network is a fundamental tool, he says.

Ive been interested in science since I was young, but wasnt sure what kind of science I wanted to do, Zhan says. In China, students usually have to decide on a field before they go to college, he adds, but I was fortunate. At age 15, Zhan was admitted to a special class for younger kids within the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei. The program allowed him to try out different research fields. A nature lover, Zhan gravitated toward the earth sciences. Environmental science, chemistry, atmospheric science I tried all of them.

Then, in late 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake ruptured the seafloor under the Indian Ocean, spawning deadly tsunamis (SN: 1/5/05). After hearing from a researcher studying the quake, Zhan knew he wanted to study seismology. I was amazed by how seismologists can study very remote things by monitoring vibrations in the Earth, Zhan says. The data are just wiggles, complicated wiggles, but so much info can be extracted. And when we do it fast, it can provide a lot of benefit to society. CarolynGramling

Scientists and journalists share a core belief in questioning, observing and verifying to reach the truth. Science News reports on crucial research and discovery across science disciplines. We need your financial support to make it happen every contribution makes a difference.

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This years SN 10 scientists aim to solve some of sciences biggest challenges - Science News

The aquatic chicken: tilapia genetics and their parallels with poultry – The Fish Site

When considering ongoing genetic improvement efforts in tilapia culture, comparisons with the development of the modern chicken industry often present themselves.

C Greg Lutz

Some 150 years ago, global poultry production looked quite a bit like tilapia production did in 1970. Chicken production was seasonal in many parts of the world because of climate and nutritional constraints, and it was a very fragmented industry, focusing mostly on local or regional markets. As a result, there were hundreds of localised chicken breeds and the culture of different birds in different localities was the norm.

Throughout the world the past century saw a shift from this fragmented industry, based on subsistence- and small-scale production, to vertically integrated facilities and specialised hatchery businesses with a focus on genetic improvement. This trend continues today, as industrial production expands in less developed nations.

The original focus of chicken breeders involved both egg and meat production in the same birds, but this shifted to separate breeding goals after World War I. At that point, production of meaty birds, known as broilers, became distinctly differentiated from that of the layers that supplied eggs. When broilers were first commercialised, mass selection was the approach used to improve production and meat yield. This resulted in moderate progress, because at the time most breeding flocks exhibited heritabilities ranging from 0.2 to 0.4.

In the tilapia industry the importance of meat yield is finally gaining more recognition as an important breeding goal. Heritabilities for fillet yield, ranging from 0.2 to 0.38 from 130 to 210 days of age, were reported in a population of Nile tilapia in Brazil (Turra et al. 2012) and a heritability of 0.25 was reported from Malaysia (Nguyen et al. 2010), but Gjerde et al. (2012) reported a much lower value of 0.06 for a line from Nicaragua. More recently, Yoshida et al. (2019) reported a modest increase in heritability estimates when using genomic information on a population in Costa Rica.

In chickens we see a negative correlation between growth and fecundity, so reproductive capacity is important in female lines, even when meat production is the ultimate goal. In tilapia improvement programmes, growth is also usually the breeding goal, but spawning success and frequency are critical considerations in commercial hatcheries. Heritability of spawning success was reported as 0.14 to 0.22 for a population of Nile tilapia in Vietnam, depending on the statistical model and spawning period.

In the years following World War II, chicken breeders began to cross distinct lines to produce broiler chicks. One reason was to maintain female lines that exhibited good egg production while crossing these with male lines that might be less productive as a result of intense selection for growth. This same practice occurs in many tilapia hatcheries around the world. Modern broiler production has evolved into a five-year process where four distinct lines are crossed to ultimately produce chicks. Crossing distinct lines is still not a common practice in tilapia production, but for a period of time hybrids were quite popular in China and also in Israel. At one time the breeding programme of a large tilapia operation in Honduras was based on a double crossing design similar to those used in the chicken industry.

Disease resistance has been an important component of chicken breeding programmes for many decades. In tilapia, a similar emphasis is taking hold. The recent emergence of tilapia lake virus (TiLV) has caused concern across the globe, but new research suggests breeding programmes to reduce or eliminate this threat may be possible. Using data from 124 O. niloticus families in Malaysia, researchers estimated heritabilities for TiLV resistance ranging from 0.48 to 0.56, with family survival ranging from 0 percent to 100 percent (Barria et al. 2020).

Some of the more long-standing tilapia pathogens are still causing major problems. Many tilapia hatcheries struggle with Flavobacterium columnare, the causative agent for columnaris disease. Selective breeding has been shown as a means to improve resistance to columnaris in tilapia, and this is important in tropical regions, where vaccines are not available and antibiotic resistance is on the rise. Researchers working with the Chitralada 4 strain in Thailand reported heritability estimates for columnaris resistance ranging from 0.14 to 0.30, based on different statistical models, with family survival rates ranging from 8 percent to 70 percent (Wonmongkol et al. 2017). Genetic influence over resistance to Streptococcus iniae and S. agalactiae have also been demonstrated, with heritabilities of 0.52 and 0.38, respectively, but resistance to one pathogen does not appear to confer resistance to the other (Shoemaker et al. 2016). Dr Carlos Lozano, with Spring Genetics, stated that selection for disease resistance is among the tilapia industrys top priorities for genetic improvement, adding In particular diseases like S. Iniae, S. agalactiae, Francisella,TiLV and columnaris.

C Greg Lutz

By the 1960s, chicken improvement programmes were emphasising the importance of feed conversion efficiency. This trait is quite difficult to measure in fish, but recent study demonstrated significant genetic control over it in Nile tilapia, with an estimated heritability of 0.32 (de Verdal et al. 2018). One genetic correlation with feed efficiency that was significant was weight loss at fasting (0.80), which would allow indirect selection for individuals with superior FCR while avoiding the complex task of measuring individual feed intake.

As quantitative genetic tools and selection programmes became more sophisticated, the chicken breeding sector began to consolidate, and most breeding programmes adopted selection indices that included more than 40 distinct physiological traits relating to feed efficiency, disease resistance, skeletal structure and behaviour. By the late 2000s only three major breeding companies dominated the market: Cobb-Vantress, Aviagen and Group Grimaud (a multi-species company based in Europe that also has interests in aquaculture species).

Over time, genetic improvement tools for chickens have evolved from mass selection, to index selection, to the use of BLUP estimates, to marker-assisted selection and now genomic selection is becoming the norm. When I asked Dr Lozano to cite some of the most important developments in tilapia improvement in recent years, he indicated: The recent development of SNP chips for tilapia has enabled the inclusion of marker assisted (MAS) and genomic selection in tilapia breeding programmes (eg Spring Genetics and GenoMar). This is especially important for disease resistance, where generally family selection was used and candidates were selected based on the performance of their siblings. With genomic selection we can select candidates based on their individual genetic merit. Gene-editing technologies have also recently been applied by AquaBounty and approved for Nile tilapia in Argentina.

Since there are so few genetic nuclei, modern industrial chicken lines must be adaptable to conditions found around the globe. Unlike a century ago, when any number of local chicken breeds could be found around the world, the birds being produced by these large corporations must incorporate adaptability to a variety of grow-out conditions and diets. This potential conflict between centralised breeding operations and a multitude of grow-out environments may eventually become an issue for tilapia producers as improved lines are disseminated across the globe. When asked about this, Dr Lozano commented: I envision the dissemination of superior genetics mostly to industrial scale producers. For small scale producers the low profit margin may restrict their accessibility to high quality fry.

Modern chickens are largely descended from the red jungle fowl, but at least one other related species appears to have contributed to the birds we raise today. Many lines of O. niloticus also include genetic contributions from other species. However, while the genome of the modern chicken has been relatively stable over the past century, this milestone is yet to be attained in tilapia. Not all tilapia are created equal. Researchers in Thailand used microsatellite genetic markers to examine changes in four lines of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) derived from the genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT) strain, and in two lines derived from a local Chitralada strain. Three of the four GIFT-derived populations remained relatively pure, with no decline in genetic variation. However, one of the GIFT-derived populations showed high levels of introgression from the Chitralada strain, and the Chitralada-derived populations exhibited introgression from GIFT lines. Introgression from O. mossambicus was also observed in one of the Chitralada-derived lines and from O. aureus in one of the GIFT-derived lines (Sukmanomon et al. 2011).

C Espejo Genipez Viterbo

The situation regarding some semblance of genomic standardisation becomes even more complicated with red tilapia. In many parts of the world, consumers demand red-coloured fish. Although red colouration has been established in O. niloticus (the red Stirling line) through the isolation and propagation of a single red mutant (McAndrew et al. 1988, Hussain 1994), most strains of red tilapia include genetic contributions from several distinct species including slower-growing O. mossambicus and O. urolepis hornorum (Desprez et al. 2006). In recent years efforts to develop robust commercial lines of red O niloticus have advanced through backcrossing red Stirling fish with fast-growing strains such as GIFT and Chitralada (Lago et al. 2017). In Colombia, my colleague Carlos Espejo has adapted a similar strategy, crossing local red lines of multi-species ancestry with Chitralada-based wild-type fish.

Just as most unimproved varieties of chickens would not perform very well in commercial chicken houses, most industrial birds would not survive long in the farmyards of subsistence farmers around the globe. Many local varieties of chicken persist around the world, and leaving aside all the introgression and hybridisation that has occurred over the past century, even within pure O. niloticus a similar array of variation can be found in terms of local and regional strains. Africa as a whole is a region of concern in terms of conserving genetic resources scattered among hundreds of local stocks of Nile tilapia. In the case of chickens, many historically recognised European, Asian and North American breeds were already reported as extinct by the FAO in 2007, having been replaced by modern varieties. Many more breeds were listed as at risk at that time. However, in regions where subsistence farming still plays a significant role in food production, indigenous chicken breeds persist, due to their accumulated adaptation to local conditions. Hopefully the same will hold true for tilapia.

References available from the author.

His career has included experience with numerous aquatic species in a number of countries. Dr Lutz is also the author of the book Practical Genetics for Aquaculture.

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The aquatic chicken: tilapia genetics and their parallels with poultry - The Fish Site

Mutations That Affect Aging May Be More Common Than Previously Thought – Science Times

A study conducted on fruit flies reveals that there might be more mutations that affect aging than scientists previously thought.

Researchers from Linkping University in Sweden have conducted a new study that resulted in findings that support a novel theory regarding the type of mutation that causes aging. Most people have come to accept that aging is an irreversible process - an organism is born, it develops, ages, and eventually dies.

However, for evolutionary biologists, this is not the case. Urban Friberg, senior lecturer at Linkping University's Physics, Chemistry, and BIology department explains that "the evolution of aging is, in a manner of speaking, a paradox." Friberg adds that there are organisms that continue to develop but without ceasing to age.

The details and results of their study are published in the journal BMC Biology.

(Photo: Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: A magnifying lamp illuminates a selection of fruit flies in a sample dish, at the "Craft and Graft" exhibition at the Crick Institute on February 22, 2019, in London, England.

Aging is defined as the "decline in physiological function with age, which results in a gradual decrease in survival and/or reproductive performance." While most theories support that aging, and its characterizations, are based on genetics. For aging to work in response to the declining strength of age-selection, researchers noted the need for a genetic architecture that accommodates mutations with age-specific effects.

Evolutionary biologists came up with two theories, about seventy years ago, to explain the two types of mutation that causes aging. Both mutations were explained to be detrimental to the organism over time - causing it to age. These mutations, however, may either be advantageous or simply neutral early in the organism's life. However, researchers have not yet identified which of these mutations contribute more to aging.

The study from Linkping University used the Drosophila melanogaster, or the fruit fly, one of the most common subjects for research around the world. Researchers experimented with 20 different mutations introduced to the genetic material of the flies. Each experiment had mutated and control groups. The mutations were visibly observable for the researchers - a different appearance of the wings, or a difference in the eye of the flies.

RELATED: New Study Mimics Fly Vision for Rapid Flight Control in Robots

Researchers then used the fertility of fruit flies as the metric for aging. As organisms grow older, their chances of death increase, and their ability to give birth reduces. They did this by counting the eggs laid by female specimens early on, then every two weeks - to see if the introduced mutations affected the rate at which these flies laid eggs.

Results show that the mutations had negatively affected the fertility of the fruit flies early in life, while others caused the fruit flies to lay eggs more rapidly. Sixteen of the mutations tested had adversely affected fecundity, with 14 of these 16 mutations increasing in effect as the flies aged.

"The results suggest that mutations that are detrimental early in life can also contribute to aging," said Martin Iinatti Brengdahl, a Ph.D. student at Linkping University's Physics, Chemistry, and BIology department. He explained: "it may be that mutations that bring on aging are significantly more common than we previously believed."

RELATED: Too Lazy to Exercise? Is It Genetic?

Check more news and information on Aging in Science Times.

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Mutations That Affect Aging May Be More Common Than Previously Thought - Science Times

Receding Hairlines: Lets Get To The Root Of The Issue + 6 Expert Ways To Stop It –

While women can totally experience hereditary and age-related hair loss, there are some other factors to keep in mind. Usually, Causes in receding hairlines for women are frontal fibrosing alopecia or traction alopecia, Ziering notes. Fibrosing alopecia is an autoimmune condition that has the body mistakenly attack the follicles that results in follicular damage or scarring. It is not very common, and it mostly affects postmenopausal women. The theory here is that post-menopausal women have a low estrogen environment around the hair follicles, which is thought to trigger the fibrosing alopecia process. But again, its not so common.

Traction alopecia, however, is much more commonplaceits a medical condition that results from long-term damage on the hair. It usually stems from consistent, too-tight hairstyles like braids, weaves, buns or tight ponytails, especially on chemically treated hair, says Ziering.

Or, women may also experience postpartum hair loss, which can cause the hairline to look a bit meager. It does eventually grow back (usually in six to 12 months), but the wait-time can understandably feel a little frustrating.

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Receding Hairlines: Lets Get To The Root Of The Issue + 6 Expert Ways To Stop It -

Lack of transparent data on egg freezing creating ethical issues, experts warn – The Irish News

A lack of transparent data on the egg-freezing services provided by fertility clinics is creating a series of ethical issues, experts have warned.

In a briefing note published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, they said there is a pressing need for information on the success rates of egg freezing to be presented more clearly, accessibly and transparently.

The experts said a lack of long-term data on egg freezing gives an incomplete picture of success rates and motivations for freezing, which creates a series of ethical issues.

Frances Flinter, Nuffield Council member and emeritus professor of clinical genetics at Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, said: Its vital for women thinking about freezing their eggs to be able to make informed choices.

To do this, they need easy access to data on their chances of success across various stages of the process from freezing and thawing eggs, to having a live birth.

But they also need clinics to be frank about the process and about what is known and unknown about egg freezing.

This is especially important given egg freezings increasing popularity.

The Nuffield note also said that clear information and research is needed for egg freezing being offered as an employment benefit by some companies in the UK.

It said: SEF (social egg freezing) as an employment benefit might be seen as a workplace gender equaliser that has positive effects on womens salaries.

However it might also push women to delay motherhood to show commitment to their career in a manner not required of male employees.

The Nuffield note has also highlighted examples of marketing concerns over egg freezing, which include the trivialisation of egg freezing in media coverage, the role of social media influencers promotion of the technology, the use of algorithms that target women with egg freezing adverts, and events where egg freezing is discussed over prosecco.

It is important that marketing strategies consider such research so that womens anxieties are not exploited, it said.

The note also discussed the benefits of increasing the storage limit for social egg freezing from 10 years, which is currently being considered by the Government.

Positive implications of increasing the limit include enabling women to freeze at an earlier age and providing them with more time to make their own decisions about when and whether to use their frozen eggs, it said.

Commenting on the Nuffield Council note, Dr John Appleby, lecturer in medical ethics at Lancaster University, said: The UKs 10-year egg freezing rule for social egg freezing is not fit for purpose and this briefing highlights how we have very little reason for maintaining it any longer.

He added: If the UK fails to remove the 10-year limit on social egg freezing, there is a risk that some UK patients will be forced to travel abroad in order to access the egg freezing services that they want.

Joyce Harper, professor of reproductive science, Institute for Womens Health, University College London, said: We are seeing an increase in the marketing of egg freezing to young women, with a lack of unbiased information including the value of egg freezing, the success and the cost.

She added: The Nuffield report highlights the need for fertility education to ensure women are aware of female fertility decline.

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Lack of transparent data on egg freezing creating ethical issues, experts warn - The Irish News

Kraftwerk K9 Offers Some of the Best-Trained German Shepherds in the World – Centralia Chronicle

Editors Note: The Chronicle is working to assist local businesses suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 virus spread and associated government orders to close or limit commerce. There will be a feature on a local business in each edition of The Chronicle and at moving forward. To be considered, email reporter Eric Trent at Additionally, The Chronicle will continue to offer its coverage of the coronavirus and its effects across the community, state and nation free outside of our paywall at

ROCHESTER Max, a 6-year-old German shepherd, is crouched motionless in a grassy yard on a sunny Tuesday in Rochester; his eyes fixated on a figure 25 yards away. Pack em! yells Wayne Curry as the canine bolts upright and tears off toward a man in a full body suit of protective gear. Max springs to the air in one fluid motion, clamps onto a protective arm sleeve and rips it off the trainers arm. Max does a victory lap around the yard with the sleeve in his mouth.

Max, a large alpha male with a smooth black coat, is Currys personal pet and the most highly-trained dog at his Kraftwerk K9 company, a German shepherd training and breeding facility located on the rural outskirts of Rochester. And Max, who snaps to attention at a bevy of commands that Curry reels off in German, is the prime example of what all of Currys 30 adult German shepherds are trained and bred in doing: protection, obedience and tracking.

Unassuming passersby may notice the wrought iron fence with the company name and the giant German Shepherd emblem, but have no idea that one of the top German shepherd trainers and handlers in the world works just beyond the fence.

Der Speigel, one of Europes most-read news websites, named Curry the most successful German shepherd breeder in the U.S. in 2011. Germans now travel 5,000 miles to Rochester just to buy dogs from him.

Max takes the training arm right off Dakota Deal throwing him to the ground Tuesday afternoon at Kraftwerk K9 German Shepherds in Rochester.

Curry first became interested in the breed after his father bought him a male, King, and female, Willy, when he was 8 years old, and he began training and preparing them for shows.

He started to get into protection training as an adult when he came home from work one night to find his Rottweiler was chewing on a bone in the front yard while the back door had been kicked in and everything valuable was stolen from his house.

He left his machinist job at Boeing in 1987 to become a full-time obedience trainer in Centralia where hed go to shelters and pass his business cards out to gain customers.

The shelter really loved me because they never had to put a dog to sleep, Curry said. I would take them out and train them just so I could get a better knowledge base.

He later entered dog breeding after he couldnt find a dog that he wanted. For the price of what he could have paid for six average females, he bought one good one, Chili, which had a litter of six puppies. From there he gained the foundation of what a perfect dog could be.

Ive always kept that same picture of what a German shepherd should be like, Curry said. My goal never changes.

He moved to Rochester in 1995, bought an $18,000 mobile home and a five-acre property of Christmas trees for $40,000 and built his first four kennels.

Wayne Curry talks about the uniquely designed kennels and living conditions Tuesday afternoon at Kraftwerk K9 German Shepherds in Rochester.

Hes since expanded to 25 acres and has recently installed state-of-the-art kennels that look more like AirBnBs for humans than dog houses. They feature climate-controlled rooms, heated tile floors and ceiling fans with a light. Outside of each dog house is a fenced concrete ring with wood chips in the middle, a design that Curry came up with himself.

Hes trained and bred nearly 600 litters of German shepherd puppies since 1987. His entire facility is surrounded by training fields and four houses that he and his employees live in so the dogs receive 24/7 care year-round. Its more like a resort for dogs than a kennel.

In the front yard of the facility are foot-tall fences where five litters of puppies roam around in the green grass. Each puppy is friendly and approaches the fence to be pet by anyone who greets them.

Inside the main building, three walls of the lobby are covered in dozens of trophies Curry won while competing in 100 competitions worldwide.

The first German shepherd he handled became a Pacific Northwest Schutzhund Champion. He qualified for the Weltunion der Vereine fr Deutsche Schferhunde (WUVS), the working dog world championships in Germany, on four different occasions, including three years in a row with the same dog. He was the highest-scoring American dog handler at WUVS one year. To qualify for the WUVS, a handler has to compete in three national events in the U.S. and place top five in combined scores.

Curry was the first handler in history to have not just one, but three American-bred dogs compete in the Bundessiegerprfung (BSP) German nationals. And in 2007, he won the AKC Working Dog Championship.

Its fun to watch when American dogs are in Germany winning, Curry said.

A curious puppy stretches up a fence Tuesday afternoon at Kraftwerk K9 German Shepherds in Rochester.

Curry has since retired from competition and focuses solely on providing trained dogs to private parties, mostly for personal and home protection. He has drawn clients from around the world.

Just as the pet industry boomed during the 2008 recession, Curry is seeing it again with the COVID-19 pandemic. His business has tripled over what it did during the 2008 recession.

Fear is a motivator, Curry said. We have the highest level of fear that I can remember. Fear causes people to think about protecting themselves.

German shepherds are the perfect security measure, Curry said. They are not concealed like a handgun. Theyre very visible. If a person is going to break into a house, theyre going to choose the one that doesnt have the German shepherd in the yard, he said. His dogs arent just protection animals, either. They are friendly and safe around children, he said. As this reporter toured the facility, each dog they encountered was friendly and pettable.

Private parties are figuring out that they need a dog with courage and a dog with a sound nerve base, which means you can take them everywhere and the dog is always safe and not a dangerous dog, Curry said. We dont have any dangerous dogs on our property.

His former dogs have risen to all kinds of heights, too. One of Maxs sons is training to compete in the German national championships. Curry sold a female, Pele, to the Seattle Police Department to become a K9 dog. Pele was featured on A&Es TV show Americas Top Dog earlier this year, which is like America Ninja Warrior for dogs.

Wayne Curry smiles while posing with Max and the training arm Tuesday afternoon at Kraftwerk K9 German Shepherds in Rochester.

Curry doesnt like to take all the credit for his dogs, however. Its not just the training that makes a dog effective at its job, whether it be tracking down bad guys for the police or protecting a home against invaders. One has to find a dog that enjoys doing what a person wants it to do.

A lot of that has to do with breeding and bloodlines, and Curry has some of the top lineages one can find. Dogs are a product of their parents, he said, and if even one puppy does not turn out to be like its parents, Curry will stop breeding that line.

Currys training just enhances what the dogs naturally have, and he uses it to maximize their ability and effectiveness. Courage, hardness and fighting drive are the traits evaluated in the competitions he competed in and those are still the traits he strives for with the dogs he sells.

A dog doesnt pass on his training, he passes on his genetics, Curry said. The ideal dog has really good genetics and really good training you dont have to teach a dog that has natural drive, and thats what I have, is dogs with natural drive.

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Kraftwerk K9 Offers Some of the Best-Trained German Shepherds in the World - Centralia Chronicle