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Archive - Jan 13, 2014

New Discovery Could Stimulate Plant Growth and Increase Crop Yields

Scientists led by experts at Durham University in the UK have discovered a natural mechanism in plants that could stimulate their growth even under stress and potentially lead to better crop yields. Plants naturally slow their growth or even stop growing altogether in response to adverse conditions, such as water shortage or high salt content in soil, in order to save energy. They do this by making proteins that repress the growth of the plant. This process is reversed when plants produce a hormone - called gibberellin - which breaks down the proteins that repress growth. Growth repression can be problematic for farmers as crops that suffer from restricted growth produce smaller yields The research team, led by the Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology, and including experts at the University of Nottingham, Rothamsted Research. and the University of Warwick, have discovered that plants have the natural ability to regulate their growth independently of gibberellin, particularly during times of environmental stress. The scientists found that plants produce a modifier protein, called SUMO that interacts with the growth-repressing proteins. The researchers believe that by modifying the interaction between the modifier protein and the repressor proteins they can remove the brakes from plant growth, leading to higher yields, even when plants are experiencing stress. The interaction between the proteins can be modified in a number of ways, including by conventional plant breeding methods and by biotechnology techniques. The research was carried out on Thale Cress, a model for plant research that occurs naturally throughout most of Europe and Central Asia, but the scientists say the mechanism they have found also exists in crops such as barley, corn, rice, and wheat. Corresponding author Dr.

Possible Help for Migraine Sufferers

Candesartan is just as effective as the more commonly prescribed propranolol when it comes to preventing migraine attacks, according to a new study from St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), which was published online on December 11, 2013 in the journal Cephalalgia. The researchers have also found that candesartan may work for patients who get no relief from propranolol. "This gives doctors more possibilities and we can help more people," says Professor Lars Jacob Stovner, leader of Norwegian National Headache Centre, who also led the study. If one drug doesn't work for the migraine patient, the other one may. Side effects may also vary from patient to patient. The new study is a follow-up on a ten-year-old study from the NTNU. Candesartan is already in use by several doctors as a migraine prophylactic, but the NTNU follow-up study, which confirms the study from a decade ago, provides the proof that the drug actually works. More than 20 percent of migraine patients report that they feel better even when they are given a placebo. But blind tests show that candesartan works preventively for another 20 to 30 percent of patients. The hope now is that candesartan will be even more commonly prescribed. Migraines are thought to affect a staggering one billion people worldwide. Twelve percent of the Norwegian population suffers from migraines, or more than 500,000 individuals. This poses problems for the individual, but is also costly for society in the form of sick leave and reduced ability to work. Preventing migraines thus offers many benefits. The NTNU study was a triple-blind test, which means that neither patients nor doctors nor those who analyzed the results knew whether the patients had been given placebo or real medicine, Dr. Stovner said.

Two Sources of Reactive Oxygen Appear Required in Diabetic Retinopathy

The retina can be bombarded by reactive oxygen species in diabetes, prompting events that destroy healthy blood vessels, form leaky new ones, and ruin vision. Now researchers have learned that those chemically reactive molecules must come from both the bone marrow as well as the retinal cells themselves to cause such serious consequences. "It's a cascade that requires two players to signal the next event that causes the damage," said Dr. Ruth Caldwell, cell biologist at the Vascular Biology Center at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) at Georgia Regents University. The good news is the finding also provides two new points for intervention, said Dr. Modesto Rojas, MCG postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study published online on December 17, 2013 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. Excessive glucose in the blood prompts excessive production of reactive oxygen species, or ROS, and the light-sensitive retina is particularly vulnerable. Dr. Caldwell's research team had previously documented that ROS from white blood cells produced by the bone marrow as well as from retinal cells were the major instigators in diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness worldwide. But they weren't sure which mattered most. So they looked as several different scenarios, including mice lacking the ability to produce ROS by either the retinal or white blood cells, and found that if either were lacking, future damage was essentially eliminated. "One alone can't do it," said Dr. Caldwell, the study's corresponding author. "They did not develop the early signs of diabetic retinopathy that we were measuring." While blocking ROS production by retinal cells could be difficult, drugs already exist that reduce activation of white blood cells.