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Archive - Mar 15, 2017

UNC Researchers Make Discovery That Could Increase Plant Yield in Wake of Looming Phosphate Shortage

Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have pinpointed a key genetic switch that helps soil bacteria living on and inside a plant's roots harvest a vital nutrient with limited global supply. The nutrient, phosphate, makes it to the plant's roots, helping the plant increase its yield. The work, published online on March 15, 2017in Nature, raises the possibility of probiotic, microbe treatments for plants to increase their efficient use of phosphate. The open-access article is titled “Root Microbiota Drive Direct Integration of Phosphate Stress and Immunity.” The form of phosphate plants can use is in danger of reaching its peak - when supply fails to keep up with demand - in just 30 years, potentially decreasing the rate of crop yield as the world population continues to climb and global warming stresses crop yields, which could have damaging effects on the global food supply. "We show precisely how a key 'switch protein,’ PHR1, controls the response to low levels of phosphate, a big stress for the plant, and also controls the plant immune system," said Jeff Dangl, Ph.D., John N. Couch Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. "When the plant is stressed for this important nutrient, it turns down its immune system so it can focus on harvesting phosphate from the soil. Essentially, the plant sets its priorities on the cellular level." Dr. Dangl, who worked with lead authors, postdoctoral researchers Dr. Gabriel Castrillo and Dr. Paulo José Pereira Lima Teixeira, graduate student Sur Herrera Paredes, and research analyst Theresa F. Law, found evidence that soil bacteria can make use of this tradeoff between nutrient-seeking and immune defense, potentially to help establish symbiotic relationships with plants.

Progress in Development of World's First Nanoengineered Retinal Prosthesis

A team of engineers at the University of California (UC) San Diego and La Jolla, California-based startup Nanovision Biosciences, Inc. have developed the nanotechnology and wireless electronics for a new type of retinal prosthesis that brings research a step closer to restoring the ability of neurons in the retina to respond to light. The researchers demonstrated this response to light in a rat retina interfacing with a prototype of the device in vitro. The scientists detail their work in an article published online on August 16, 2016 in the Journal of Neural Engineering. The article is titled “Towards High-Resolution Retinal Prostheses with Direct Optical Addressing and Inductive Telemetry.” The technology could help tens of millions of people worldwide suffering from neurodegenerative diseases that affect eyesight, including macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and loss of vision due to diabetes. Despite tremendous advances in the development of retinal prostheses over the past two decades, the performance of devices currently on the market to help the blind regain functional vision is still severely limited--well under the acuity threshold of 20/200 that defines legal blindness. "We want to create a new class of devices with drastically improved capabilities to help people with impaired vision," said Gabriel A. Silva, Ph.D., one of the senior authors of the work and professor in bioengineering and ophthalmology at UC San Diego. Dr. Silva also is one of the original founders of Nanovision.