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Archive - Mar 28, 2015

Preliminary Results Indicate Roseroot May Be Beneficial Treatment Option for Major Depressive Disorder

Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea) (photo), or roseroot, may be a beneficial treatment option for major depressive disorder (MDD), according to results of a study published in the March 15, 2015 issue of the journal Phytomedicine> The study was led by Jun J. Mao, M.D., M.S.C.E., Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Community Health and Epidemiology and colleagues at the Perelman School of Medicine of University of Pennsylvania. The proof of concept trial study is the first randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, comparison trial of oral R. rosea extract versus the conventional antidepressant therapy sertraline for mild to moderate major depressive disorder. Depression is one of the most common and debilitating psychiatric conditions, afflicting more than 19 million Americans each year, 70 percent of whom do not fully respond to initial therapy. Costs of conventional antidepressants and their sometimes substantial side effects often result in a patient discontinuing use prematurely. Others opt to try natural products or supplements instead. All of the study's 57 adult participants, enrolled from December 2010 and April 2013, had a DSM IV Axis 1 diagnosis of MDD, meaning they exhibited two or more major depressive episodes, depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least 2 weeks, as well as symptoms including significant unintentional weight loss or gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, fatigue, and diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death. The participants received 12 weeks of standardized R. rosea extract, sertraline, or placebo. Changes over time in Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinical Global Impression (CGI) change scores were measured among groups.

Ebola Whole Virus Vaccine Effective & Save in Macaques, UW-Madison Study Shows

An Ebola whole virus vaccine, constructed using a novel experimental platform, has been shown to effectively protect monkeys exposed to the often fatal virus. The vaccine, described online on March 26, 2015 in an article in Science, was developed by a group led by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a University of Wisconsin-Madison expert on avian influenza, Ebola, and other viruses of medical importance. The vaccine differs from other Ebola vaccines because as an inactivated whole virus vaccine, it primes the host immune system with the full complement of Ebola viral proteins and genes, potentially conferring greater protection. "In terms of efficacy, this affords excellent protection," explains Dr. Kawaoka, a Professor of Pathobiological Sciences in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and who also holds a faculty appointment at the University of Tokyo. "It is also a very safe vaccine." The vaccine was constructed on an experimental platform first devised in 2008 by Dr. Peter Halfmann, a research scientist in Dr. Kawaoka's lab. The system allows researchers to safely work with the virus thanks to the deletion of a key gene known as VP30, which the Ebola virus uses to make a protein required for it to reproduce in host cells. Ebola virus has only eight genes and, like most viruses, depends on the molecular machinery of host cells to grow and become infectious.

The Secret Life of Giant Pandas

Reclusive giant pandas fascinate the world, yet precious little is known about how they spend their time in the Chinese bamboo forests--until now. A team of Michigan State University (MSU) researchers who have been electronically stalking five pandas in the wild, courtesy of rare GPS collars, have finished crunching months of data and published some panda surprises online on March 27, 2015 in the Journal of Mammalogy. "Pandas are such an elusive species and it's very hard to observe them in wild, so we haven't had a good picture of where they are from one day to the next," said Vanessa Hull, Ph.D., a research associate at MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS). Dr. Jindong Zhang, a co-author on the paper and postdoctoral researcher at CSIS continues "This was a great opportunity to get a peek into the panda's secretive society that has been closed off to us in the past." Dr. Hull adds, "Once we got all the data in the computer we could see where they go and map it. It was so fascinating to sit down and watch their whole year unfold before you like a little window into their world." The five pandas - three female adults named Pan Pan, Mei Mei, and Zhong Zhong, a young female named Long Long and a male named Chuan Chuan - were captured, collared, and tracked from 2010 to 2012, in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwest China. The Chinese government is protective of its endangered pandas and for more than a decade banned putting GPS collars on them. While a handful of studies have tracked some, this is one of the first times technology has been used that provided more detail on the pandas' movements and how they interact with one another over time. One of the biggest surprises was that the pandas seemed to spend significant time together sometimes.

Color of Bird Plumage Based on More Than Sexual Selection

In the world of bird fashion, the guys seem to have all the fun: brighter feathers, sharper accessories, more pizzazz. Researchers going back to Charles Darwin have focused on the contrast between the sexes, attributing the males' brighter colors to their need to attract mates. A group of researchers at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee took a different approach, testing a hypothesis that evolution has actually resulted in similarities among the sexes as much as differences. Looking at nearly 1,000 species of birds, they found that while males often have brighter feathers than females, the two sexes have come closer together in color over time to blend into their surroundings and hide from predators. Natural selection - during migration, breeding in subtropical locales, and care of young - is as powerful as sexual selection. "Although most studies of bird plumage focus on dichromatism, evolutionary change has most often led to similar, rather than different, plumage in males and females," the authors write. Dr. Peter Dunn and Dr. Linda Whittingham, Professors of Biological Sciences at UW-Milwaukee, wrote the paper with Jessica Armenta, a former UW-Milwaukee graduate student who now teaches at Austin Community College in Texas. "Our study shows that ecology and behavior are driving the color of both sexes, and it is not due to sexual selection," they write. The open-access article, "Natural and Sexual Selection Act on Different Axes of Variation in Avian Plumage Color," was published online on March 27, 2015 in Science Advances. Ms. Armenta spent four years collecting data from 977 species of birds from six museums in the U.S. and Australia. She looked at six birds of each species, three males and three females. Dr. Dunn and Dr. Whittingham analyzed the data, assigning each bird a color score based on scales of brightness and hue.