Pod shatter in oilseed rape – problem for farmers worldwide.

Breeding temperature-resilient crops is an “achievable dream” in one of the most important species of commercially-cultivated plants, according to a new study.

The vision of crop improvement in the face of climate change is outlined in research by the John Innes Centre which establishes a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of “pod shatter” (premature seed dispersal) in oilseed rape.

Research by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard, reveals that pod shatter is enhanced at higher temperature across diverse species in the Brassicaceae family which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This new understanding brings a step closer the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures a step closer.

Dr Vinod Kumar, a co-author of the paper explained the significance of the findings:

“It’s almost as if there is a thermostat that controls seed dispersal, or pod shatter. As we learn how it works, we could in the future ‘rewire’ it so seed dispersal does not happen at the same pace at higher temperatures

“This piece of the puzzle, coupled with the use of advanced genetic tools means that developing temperature-resilient crops becomes an achievable dream.”

Controlling seed dispersal, or “pod shatter” is a major issue for farmers of oilseed rape worldwide, who lose between 15-20% of yield on average per year due to prematurely dispersed seeds lost in the field.

The study set out to find out if temperature increases had a direct influence on pod shatter in oilseed rape, and how this is controlled by genetics.

“Over the last two decades, scientists have identified the genes that control pod shatter. However, it is not until now that we begin to understand how their activity is affected by the environment, and in this case temperature,” explained Professor Lars Østergaard.

To study the effects of temperature on seed dispersal, Dr Xinran Li, a postdoctoral researcher, monitored fruit development in Arabidopsis, a model plant related to the important Brassicaceae crops, at three different temperatures 17, 22 and 27 degrees centigrade.

This showed that stiffening of the cell wall at the tissue where pod shatter takes place is enhanced by increasing temperature leading to accelerated seed dispersal.

Dr. Li demonstrated that this was true not only for Arabidopsis, but across the Brassicaceae family, including oilseed rape.

The team went on to establish the genetic mechanism which organises the plant response to higher temperatures. Previous studies have shown that pod shatter is controlled by a gene called INDEHISCENT (IND). This study reveals that IND is under the control of a thermo-sensory mechanism in which a histone called H2A.Z is a key player.

The report concludes: “Our findings introduce an environmental factor to the current knowledge, which provide alternative avenues for crop improvement in the face of climate change.”

The paper Temperature modulates tissue-specification programme to control fruit dehiscence in Brassicaceae which appears in the journal Molecular Plant also identifies the genetic pathways behind the temperature sensing mechanism which coordinates the crop’s response to rises in temperature.

Temperature modulates tissue-specification program to control fruit dehiscence in Brassicaceae: authors Xin-Ran Li, Joyita Deb, S. Vinod Kumar and Lars Østergaard.

Read the full report and paper here: http://www.cell.com/molecular-plant/fulltext/S1674-2052(18)30023-6

https://www.jic.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2018/02/temperature-resilient-crops/#

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Songbirds known as Japanese tits communicate using human-like rules for language and can mentally picture what they’re talking about, research suggests.

by Brandon Keim

Hear a word, particularly an important one — like “snake!” — and an image appears in your mind. Now scientists are finding that this basic property of human language is shared by certain birds and, perhaps, many other creatures.

In a series of clever tests, a researcher has found that birds called Japanese tits not only chirp out a distinctive warning for snakes, but also appear to imagine a snake when they hear that cry. This glimpse into the mind’s eye of a bird hints at just how widespread this ostensibly human-like capacity may be.

“Animal communication has been considered very different from human speech,” says Toshitaka Suzuki, an ethologist at Japan’s Kyoto University. “My results suggest that birds and humans may share similar cognitive abilities for communication.”

Perhaps this went unappreciated for so long, says Suzuki, simply because “we have not yet found a way to look at the animals’ minds.”

Over the last several years, Suzuki conducted a series of experiments deciphering the vocalizations of Japanese tits — or Parus minor, whose family includes such everyday birds as chickadees and titmice — and describing their possession of syntax, or the ability to produce new meanings by combining words in various orders. (“Open the door,” for example, versus “the open door.”)

Syntax has long been considered unique to human language, and language in turn is often thought to set humans apart from other animals. Yet Suzuki found it not in a bird typically celebrated for intelligence, like crows or parrots, but in humble P. minor.

MENTAL PICTURES
Once he realized that birds are using their own form of language, Suzuki wondered: what happens in their minds when they talk? Might words evoke corresponding images, as happens for us?

Suzuki tested that proposition by broadcasting recordings of P. minor’s snake-specific alarm call from a tree-mounted speaker. Then he analyzed the birds’ responses to a stick that he’d hung along the trunk and could manipulate to mimic a climbing snake.

If the call elicited a mental image, Suzuki figured the birds would pay extra-close attention to the snake-like stick. Indeed they did, he recently reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In contrast, when Suzuki broadcast a call used by tits to convey a general, non-specific alarm, the birds didn’t pay much notice to the stick. And when he set the stick swinging from side to side in a decidedly non-snakelike manner, the birds ignored it.

“Simply hearing these calls causes tits to become more visually perceptive to objects resembling snakes,” he writes in PNAS. “Before detecting a real snake, tits retrieve its visual image from snake-specific alarm calls and use this to search out snakes.”

Rob Magrath, a behavioral ecologist at Australia National University who specializes in bird communication, thinks Suki’s interpretation is consistent with the results. He also calls the work “truly delightful.”

“I love the way that Suzuki employs simple experiments, literally using sticks and string, to test ideas,” Magrath says. Similarly impressed is ecologist Christine Sheppard of the American Bird Conservancy. “It’s incredibly challenging to devise an experiment that would allow you to answer this question,” she says. “It’s really neat.”

MINDS OF THEIR OWN
Sheppard says it makes evolutionary sense for animals to possess a ‘mind’s eye’ that works in tandem with their communications: It allows individuals to respond more quickly to threats. Suzuki agrees, and believes it’s likely found not only in P. minor and their close relatives, but in many other birds and across the animal kingdom.

“Many other animals produce specific calls when finding specific types of food or predators,” he says. He hopes researchers will use his methodology to peek into the mind’s eyes of other animals.

For Sheppard, the findings also speak to how people think about birds: not just as pretty or interesting or ecologically important, but as fellow beings with rich minds of their own.

“When I was in school, people still thought that birds were little automata. Now “bird brain” is becoming a compliment,” she says.

“I think this kind of insight helps people see birds as living, breathing creatures with whom we share the planet,” she says.

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/japanese-songbirds-process-language-syntax/


Kent Hutchinson of the CU Change Lab is one of authors of this new research on the effects of Marijuana on the brain.

by Cay Leytham-Powell

Marijuana may not be as damaging to the brain as previously thought, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder and the CU Change Lab.

The research, which was published in the journal Addiction, examined the brains of more than 1,000 participants of varying ages, and found that long-term alcohol use is much more damaging to the brain than marijuana, contradicting years of research into the effects of marijuana and other cannabinoid products on the brain.

These findings, and other conclusions suggesting the potential public health benefits of marijuana, come amid the recent back-and-forth on federal marijuana policy and the nation’s opioid crisis.

Yet scientists are still hesitant to say that cannabinoid usage, specifically as it pertains to marijuana and its associated products, is beneficial.

“Particularly with marijuana use, there is still so much that we don’t know about how it impacts the brain,” said Rachel Thayer, a graduate student in clinical psychology at CU Boulder and the lead author of the study. “Research is still very limited in terms of whether marijuana use is harmful, or beneficial, to the brain.”

While the negative effects of alcohol on the brain have been known by researchers for years, it has been assumed that cannabinoids are as damaging to long-term brain health—if not more—given the immediate psychoactive effects of the THC (the chemical that gets a person high) in marijuana.

However, this may not necessarily be true.

“When you look at the research much more closely, you see that a lot of it is probably not accurate,” said study co-author Kent Hutchison, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at CU Boulder and co-director of the CU Change Lab, which explores the factors linked with health and risk behavior.

“When you look at these studies going back years, you see that one study will report that marijuana use is related to a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus. The next study then comes around, and they say that marijuana use is related to changes in the cerebellum or the whatever.”

“The point is that there’s no consistency across all of these studies in terms of the actual brain structures.”

To combat this misconception in the existing literature, the researchers gave a fresh look at some existing neurological imaging data from the MRIs of both adolescents and adults to see how, using the same variables and controls, the influence of cannabinoids on the brain compared to or contrasted with alcohol.
“With alcohol, we’ve known it’s bad for the brain for decades,” said Hutchison. “But for cannabis, we know so little.”

To see any potential difference, the researchers used the data to examine the most important neurological components: gray matter and white matter.

Gray and white matter are the two main types of tissue that make up the brain and central nervous system. Gray matter is the “stuff”—the cell bodies, dendrites and axon terminals—that enable functionality. White matter, then, is how the grey matter communicates between clusters. Any loss of size or integrity in either can make the brain not work quite like it should.

The study found that alcohol use was significantly associated with a decrease in gray matter size and white matter integrity, particularly for adults who may have decades of exposure. Marijuana and associated cannabinoid products, on the other hand, were not shown to have any long-term impact on the amount of gray matter in the brain or on the integrity of the white matter.

The research demonstrated that, “while marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” according to Hutchison.

Despite marijuana not being as harmful as once thought, and definitely not as damaging as other legal and illegal products, the research has not yet proved any possible benefits. This is particularly the case as it relates to the different products on the market (both THC and non-THC-containing cannabinoid products), their usage with pain and addiction treatment and the effect on different ages — especially as cannabinoid usage is on the rise among older populations.

“Considering how much is happening in the real world with the legalization movement, we still have a lot of work to do,” Hutchison said.

https://www.colorado.edu/asmagazine/2018/02/02/cannabinoids-are-easier-brain-booze-study-finds


The teeth and jaw from the younger dog in the grave: This pup likely had canine distemper.

By Laura Geggel

Ancient people likely cared for a sick, domesticated pup for weeks on end before it died about 14,000 years ago during the Paleolithic era, a new study finds.

After it died, the dog was buried with the remains of another dog and an adult man and woman — making it not only the oldest burial of a domestic dog on record, but also the oldest known grave to contain both dogs and people, the researchers said.

This discovery suggests that even though the dog was young, sick and likely untrained as a result, ancient people still had an emotional bond with it, the researchers wrote in the study. This may explain why the people buried the animal with two of their own, the researchers said.

The grave itself was found in 1914 in Oberkassel, a suburb of Bonn in western Germany. Until now, however, researchers thought the burial contained two humans and just one dog. But a new analysis of the canid bones and teeth revealed that two dogs were in fact buried there: an older dog and a younger dog, which likely had a serious case of morbillivirus, better known as canine distemper.

The younger dog was about 28 weeks old when it died, the study’s lead researcher, Luc Janssens, a veterinarian and doctoral student of archaeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said in a statement. A dental analysis showed that the pup likely contracted the disease at around 3 to 4 months of age, and likely had two or even three periods of serious illness, each lasting up to six weeks, Janssens said.

Canine distemper is a serious illness that has three phases. During the first week, infected dogs can show signs of high fever, lack of appetite, dehydration, tiredness, diarrhea and vomiting, the researchers wrote in the study. Up to 90 percent of dogs with distemper die during the second phase, when they can develop a stuffy nose, laryngitis and pneumonia. In the third phase, dogs experience neurological problems, including seizures.

There is now a vaccine for canine distemper, but unvaccinated dogs, as well as tigers and Amur leopards, can still die from the virus.

Given the severity of the disease, the ancient pup would have likely died right away unless it received intensive human care, the researchers said. “This would have consisted of keeping the dog warm and clean [from] diarrhea, urine, vomit [and] saliva,” as well as giving the pup water and possibly food, the researchers wrote in the study.

“While it was sick, the dog would not have been of any practical use as a working animal,” Janssens said. “This, together with the fact that the dogs were buried with people, who[m] we may assume were their owners, suggests that there was a unique relationship of care between humans and dogs as long as 14,000 years ago.”

The humans buried with the dogs had medical problems of their own. The roughly 40-year-old man had two healed bones, one on his arm and the other by his clavicle. He and the roughly 25-year-old woman also had moderate-to-severe dental disease, the researchers noted.

The grave also contained several artifacts, including a bone pin, a sculpture of an elk made from elk antlers, the penis bone of a bear and a red-deer tooth.

Although this finding is the oldest known domestic dog burial, it’s not the only ancient one. Other dog burials have been dated to about 11,600 years ago in the Near East, and archaeologists have found others dating to about 8,500 to 6,500 years ago in Scandinavia and about 8,000 years ago at the Koster Site in Illinois, the researchers said.

The study was published online Feb. 3 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

https://www.livescience.com/61717-oldest-dog-burial.html

By Leah Crane

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now one of the most distant human-made objects, and it just took the most distant photograph ever. The image of an icy rock in the Kuiper belt has had colour added to increase the contrast.

After its visit to Pluto, the spacecraft headed out toward the Kuiper belt on its way to its next target, a Kuiper belt object (KBO) called 2014 MU69. It is now about 41 times as far from Earth as Earth is from the sun. There are only four spacecraft that have ever traveled that far from home: Voyager 1 and 2, and Pioneer 10 and 11.

But New Horizons is the first to send back a picture for so far afield. Its four predecessors did not send back images because their cameras were shut down before they got that far away.

New Horizons is still on an active mission to visit the Kuiper Belt. During its voyage to the outer reaches of the solar system, the spacecraft usually stays in hibernation mode to conserve energy. Every once in a while, its mission operators turn on its camera to take a few pictures and calibrations and beam them back to Earth.

The last time they did this was 5 December, when New Horizons took a routine calibration image of a cluster of stars, breaking a record for the most distant photograph ever taken. Two hours later, it broke the record again with two images of KBOs that are also the closest-up image ever taken of any such object. From here on out, every image it sends back will be the most distant image ever sent back.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2160850-this-record-breaking-photo-was-taken-from-6-billion-km-away/

by Lacy Cook

This praying mantis isn’t just wearing minuscule 3D glasses for the cute factor, but to help scientists learn more about 3D vision. A Newcastle University team discovered a novel form of 3D vision, or stereo vision, in the insects – and compared human and insect stereo vision for the very first time. Their findings could have implications for visual processing in robots.

Humans aren’t the only creatures with stereo vision, which “helps us work out the distances to the things we see,” according to the university. Cats, horses, monkeys, toads, and owls have it too – but the only insect we know about with 3D vision is the praying mantis. Six Newcastle University researchers obtained new insight into their robust stereo vision with the help of small 3D glasses temporarily attached to the insects with beeswax.

The researchers designed an insect 3D cinema, showing a praying mantis a film of prey. The insects would actually try to catch the prey because the illusion was so convincing. And the scientists were able to take their work to the next level, showing the mantises “complex dot-patterns used to investigate human 3D vision” so they could compare our 3D vision with an insect’s for the first time.

According to the university, humans see 3D in still images by matching details of the image each eye sees. “But mantises only attack moving prey so their 3D doesn’t need to work in still images. The team found mantises don’t bother about the details of the picture but just look for places where the picture is changing…Even if the scientists made the two eyes’ images completely different, mantises can still match up the places where things are changing. They did so even when humans couldn’t.”

The journal Current Biology published their work online last week. Lead author Vivek Nityananda, a behavioral ecologist, described the praying mantis’ stereo vision as “a completely new form of 3D vision.”

Future robots could benefit from these findings: instead of 3D vision based on complex human stereo vision, researchers might be able to take some tips from praying mantis stereo vision, which team member Ghaith Tarawneh said probably doesn’t require a lot of computer processing since insect brains are so small.

https://inhabitat.com/praying-mantises-wearing-tiny-glasses-help-researchers-discover-new-type-of-3d-vision/

by Ashley Ludwig

What would you do if you discovered your long lost uncle worked undercover in the take-down of mobster Al Capone? Laguna Beach’s own Dr. Marty Dolan learned of such a thing when he discovered crates of investigative papers in a crawlspace of his family’s New Jersey home. Those documents, shared with FOX Business Network in the series “Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby” will premiere Monday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. Pacific.

“I didn’t know what (the papers) were about, because I was young when he passed away,” Dolan said. “He’d show up periodically to visit my grandmother. He had deep-set eyes. He had this fedora and overcoat, even in the summer.”

Dolan’s uncle was Mike Malone, a career Internal Revenue Service agent who passed away in 1960. His documents, case files and notes were lost to the dust in that attic until Dolan inherited them. After his initial bewilderment, and a lot of research, Dolan has had a hand in uncovering the truth behind some of the most famous cases in U.S. legal history including the take-down of Al Capone’s gang and the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping.

For 47 years, his uncle Mike Malone gave everything to the Treasury department. He lived an obscure double life, often undercover, but the notes and files he kept under the roof of the family house have added details never before known about criminal cases of the 1920s and 30s. Those files were put away until Dolan retired, when the research of his family legacy became his primary hobby.

With the help of the internet, Dolan learned that his uncle worked for the T-Men part of the U.S. Treasury Department, a crime fighting unit used once the Supreme Court declared income from illicit activity was taxable.

Dolan learned that his uncle worked undercover as a mob-boss named “Mike Lepito,” and was reported to have infiltrated Capone’s organization and even lived at Capone’s headquarters collecting evidence toward the infamous tax evasion sentence. According to the files, Malone helped take down Al Capone, as well as Waxey Gordon, Nucky Johnson–all of “Boardwalk Empire” fame.

Malone also helped to solve the Crime of the Century that was the 1930 kidnapping and murder of the 20-month old Lindbergh baby. Forensic accounting of the $50,000 ransom aided in the apprehension of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, found guilty of the crime and executed in 1936.

According to Strange Inheritance, Dolan’s inheritance is a “bonanza” to researchers.

Dolan is hoping that what he has in his possession will honor his uncle, whom he is attempting to have a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom given in his name.

Watch FOX Business Network “Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby” Monday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. Pacific.

Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.