News Article | April 18, 2017
Gird your gourds. A deadly bacterium transmitted via beetle poop is threatening bright blossoms and bulbous vegetables in the U.S. By the time yellowing leaves and signs of wilting become apparent it is already too late. At that point infected pumpkins, melons, cucumbers or squash plants can only be isolated in hope of minimizing the damage. Crop yield losses can be as high as 80 percent. The killer, a bacterium called Erwinia tracheiphila, was first described in scientific literature some 120 years ago when it was reported in cucumber, melon and winter squash fields in Michigan. But now the increasing acreage of these plants, along with the practice of sowing more fields with one or a few crops—rather than a wide variety—appear to have helped the microbe gain traction. It is currently being blamed for tens of millions of dollars in losses each year. “To be honest, it’s in every field I go to in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, unless the plants are completely doused in pesticides,” says Lori Shapiro, an evolutionary ecologist who researches the involved bacterium at North Carolina State and Harvard universities. These virulent microbes have also taken out gourds and melons across Kentucky and Iowa. Agricultural experts remain concerned the bacterium might creep into new areas like the southeastern or southwestern U.S. as well as Mexico—and wonder if it already has. Such hazards are rekindling interest in studying this killer bacterium. And recent discoveries by Shapiro and colleagues are providing fresh insights into how these microbes hijack their hosts and manipulate insect behavior to help E. tracheiphila proliferate. Armed with this information, farmers and researchers hope they might be able to develop some new weapons against this stealthy scourge. In many ways the microbe’s rise is an exquisite evolutionary feat. These pernicious pests catch a ride to gourds and other hosts such as cantaloupe and honeydew melon, courtesy of beetle excrement. When beetles nibble on leaves and then deposit their feces there, the bacteria jump from poop to plant. They enter their victim via the fresh, bite-induced wounds produced by their grazing hosts. Then they hole up inside the plant’s veins, multiplying and forming a slimy mass that obstructs water from moving through its vasculature. The blockage desiccates and kills the gourd—much in the same way a blockage in a human vein might lead to heart failure or coronary heart disease, Shapiro explains. “If our arteries are clogged by plaque and blood can’t get through, you may die. Similarly, the xylem (veins) are blocked here so that the plant collapses and dies—although the time scales are a bit different. In both cases the vasculature no longer works.” The obstruction leaves the plants with an unquenchable thirst. No matter how much water a farmer might provide, once the bacteria have a foothold it will never be enough, says Mark Gleason, a plant pathologist at Iowa State University. “It’s pretty much a death sentence. No water can flow. Sometimes they recover at night and look better, but that’s just an intermediate stage,” he says. The victim will be dead within about two weeks, depending on the temperature. Right now, options to stop these microbial attackers are few: The bacteria do not survive on plant surfaces, so they cannot be targeted there. The only consistent defense is attacking the beetle carriers—preemptively applying neonicotinoid pesticides to plants to prevent beetles from feeding on them and depositing the bacteria. The catch is that these bug killers have also been shown to harm the bees that would otherwise help pollinate those same plants, says Andrew Stephenson, an evolutionary ecologist at The Pennsylvania State University. Using pesticides in a way that minimizes damage to bees remains challenging, Stephenson notes. Moreover, regularly applying such chemicals can be expensive—and is obviously not an option for organic farmers. (Many organic farmers use row covers to physically separate beetles from plants, but that is an expensive and cumbersome solution.) With pesticides, “I would say we are using a sledgehammer to defeat a fly, and we need something a bit more attuned and effective,” Gleason agrees. Bee harm is also at the heart of a current debate at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about restricting pesticide use during plant flowering to avoid inadvertently killing pollinators. The issue has fomented risk assessments along with some limited new policies, but environmental groups are hoping for more controls. “It seems unlikely that [such] regulation will be enacted in the next couple of years, but if it ever is, that would likely mean that chemical pesticides would be useless for controlling vector populations,” ecologist Shapiro says. In their search for solutions Shapiro and colleagues have in recent years turned to E. tracheiphila’s genome and the ways the bacterium influences beetle behavior. The researchers have already uncovered some surprising insights. In September 2012 Shapiro and researchers at Penn State found beetles actually preferred to sup on plants already infected with the bacterium. They discovered infected plants give off volatile compounds that apparently smell delicious to the bugs—attracting them to feed and forcing the plant to become a party to its own demise. The microbe has other tricks, too. To help ensure the beetles will stay, dine and deposit feces, the bacterium also degrades its host’s natural defenses—making the plant even more alluring for still more beetles. Infected gourds and melons apparently produce less of a gummy sap that would otherwise leave a beetle’s mouth feeling too sticky to keep eating. Scientists are unsure why there is less of the sticky stuff in infected plants, but one leading hypothesis is that the reduced water flow reduces that syrupy supply. Beyond breaking down beetle behavior, Shapiro and colleagues are also scouring the E. tracheiphila genome, looking for virulence genes that have helped make the microbe a better killer. Her team published findings last year that suggest the bacterium has only recently started consistently preying upon these crops. Writing in Genome Biology and Evolution, they pointed to the fact that more than 20 percent of the pathogen’s genome is composed of nonfunctioning genes—pseudogenes that do not appear to be doing important work. This suggests the microbe’s focus on these plants must have been relatively recent on the evolutionary scale because those nonfunctional genes would likely have been eliminated as negative pressure pushed them out over time, the authors wrote. The team hypothesizes the leap to these crops from a different ecological niche—and subsequent genomic changes—may have been influenced by the large-scale single-crop farming practices that have proliferated across the U.S. That, in combination with beetles being easily able to flit from one plant to its neighbor, may have lit the match for this threat, they suggest. But what can be done? One path may be trying to identify resistance genes, Gleason says. Researchers do not know why the blight has apparently not spread to (or at least not been detected) in Texas or California, even though there are available crops and possible bug carriers in those states. These factors suggest there may be some genetic resistance or other factors about potential beetle carriers that could be explored. For now, however, Shapiro and colleagues have put out a call to citizen scientists and farmers, asking them to send in sick gourd and melon plants (those that do not rebound after watering). More widespread E. tracheiphila samples, they hope, will allow them to better understand the full range of this bacterium and launch further genomic studies. Perhaps then, we can better prepare pumpkins and other plants for future attacks.
News Article | April 24, 2017
April 24, 2017 -- In newly updated clinical guidelines from the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO), researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center with an interdisciplinary team of colleagues at MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Michigan, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and other institutions in the U.S. and Canada, analyzed which integrative treatments are most effective and safe for patients with breast cancer. This systematic review adds to the growing literature on integrative therapies for patients with breast cancer and other cancer populations. The latest results are published online and in print in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, a publication of the American Cancer Society. The researchers evaluated more than 80 different therapies and developed grades of evidence. Based on those findings, the Society for Integrative Oncology makes the following recommendations: "Studies show that up to 80 percent of people with a history of cancer use one or more complementary and integrative therapies, but until recently, evidence supporting the use of many of these therapies had been limited," said Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and past president of SIO. "Our goal is to provide clinicians and patients with practical information and tools to make informed decisions on whether and how to use a specific integrative therapy for a specific clinical application during and after breast cancer treatment," Greenlee continues. In their systematic evaluation of peer-reviewed randomized clinical trials, the researchers assigned letter grades to therapies based on the strength of evidence. A letter grade of "A" indicates that a specific therapy is recommended for a particular clinical indication, and there is high certainty of substantial benefit for the patient. Meditation had the strongest evidence supporting its use, and is recommended for reducing anxiety, treating symptoms of depression, and improving quality of life, based on results from five trials. Music therapy, yoga, and massage received a B grade for the same symptoms, as well as for providing benefits to breast cancer patients. Yoga received a B grade for improving quality of life based on two recent trials. Yoga and hypnosis received a C for fatigue. "The routine use of yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and passive music therapy to address common mental health concerns among patients with breast cancer is supported by high levels of evidence," said Debu Tripathy, MD, chair of Breast Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and a past president of SIO. "Given the indication of benefit coupled with the relatively low level of risk, , these therapies can be offered as a routine part of patient care, especially when symptoms are not well controlled." Acupressure and acupuncture received a B grade as an addition to drugs used for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. In general, there was a lack of strong evidence supporting the use of ingested dietary supplements and botanical natural products as part of supportive cancer care and to manage treatment-related side effects. "Clinicians and patients need to be cautious about using therapies that received a grade of C or D and fully understand the potential risks of not using a conventional therapy that may effectively treat cancer or help manage side effects associated with cancer treatment," warned Lynda Balneaves, RN, PhD, associate professor, College of Nursing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, Winnipeg, Canada, and president-elect of SIO. "Patients are using many forms of integrative therapies with little or no supporting evidence and that remain understudied," noted Dr. Greenlee. "This paper serves as a call for further research to support patients and healthcare providers in making more informed decisions that achieve meaningful clinical results and avoid harm." Additional co-authors: Melissa J. DuPont-Reyes, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University; Linda Carlson, Department of Oncology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada; Misha Cohen, American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine at California Institute of Integral Studies, and Chicken Soup Chinese Medicine, San Francisco; Gary Deng, Integrative Oncology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City; Jillian A. Johnson, Department of Biobehavioral Health, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park; Matthew Mumber, Department of Radiation Oncology,Harbin Clinic, Rome, GA; Dugald Seely, Ottawa Integrative Cancer Center, Ottawa, ON, and Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Toronto, ON; Suzanna M. Zick, Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan Health System, and Department of Nutritional Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Lindsay M. Boyce, Memorial Sloan Kettering Library, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City. Founded in 1922, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP (formerly the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs) and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit http://www. .
News Article | February 20, 2017
Researchers developing technologies to improve therapeutic success among radiotherapy patients, prevent chest wall collapses in pre-term infants with respiratory distress, and assist surgeons with pre-operative planning for femur fracture alignments will receive a total of $600,000 in funding through the ninth round of the University City Science Center’s QED Proof-of-Concept Program. The program, started in 2009, funds novel university technologies with market potential, bridging the gap between academic research and product commercialization. The awardees were selected from a pool of 64 applicants from 15 academic and research institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The QED grants will support researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, Rowan University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Each team will receive $200,000; half of which will be contributed by the Science Center and half by the researchers’ institutions. Each project will also receive guidance from the Science Center’s experienced team of Business Advisors. Mohammad Abedin-Nasab, Ph.D. of Rowan University is improving patient outcomes with Robossis™, a robotic surgery device designed to assist surgeons with pre-operative planning and alignment of long bone fractures, leading to faster surgeries. David Cormode, D.Phil., M.Chem. of the University of Pennsylvania is revolutionizing cancer treatment options with a biodegradable gold nanoparticle-based technology that increases radiation absorption in tumors, creating improved therapeutic efficacy in cancer. Charles Palmer, MB, ChB, FCP, FAAP of Penn State College of Medicine is transforming neonatal care though a noninvasive assisted breathing device for pre-term infants with respiratory distress that uses negative pressure to prevent chest wall collapse. “Now in its ninth year, the QED program continues to highlight the treasure trove of technologies at our region’s universities. But as last year’s study into the impact of QED shows, the program’s value lies in its people,” says Science Center President & CEO Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., MBA. “QED matches some of our region’s most accomplished scientists with Business Advisors and industry and investor professionals. This carefully facilitated connectivity and awareness among academic, entrepreneurial, and investor communities leads to more collaboration, research and commercialization throughout the region.” “The quality of proposals and teams coming through the QED program is a testament to the robust research coming out of Greater Philadelphia’s academic institutions” says QED Selection Team member, Jeannie Rojas, Ph.D., MBA, Portfolio Leader at Johnson & Johnson. “The powerful combination of innovative researchers matched with QED Business Advisors is bridging the gap between academic research and product commercialization – all with the potential to positively impact the region and the world.” Since the program’s inception in 2009, QED has screened 539 proposals from 21 participating academic and research institutions. Of the technologies screened, 105 projects have been accepted into the competitive program and paired with scientists and industry professionals. QED has awarded a total of $5.45 million to 31 projects, primarily in the therapeutic/biologic, device/diagnostic, and digital health sectors. Of these 31 projects, eight technologies have been licensed, while five have gone on to form startup companies. Projects awarded funding by the QED program have raised over $19 million in follow-on funding. A study of the impact of the program was completed by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia in 2016. QED has received support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, William Penn Foundation, and Wexford Science and Technology. About the Science Center Located in the heart of uCity Square, the Science Center is a mission-driven nonprofit organization that catalyzes and connects innovation to entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. For 50+ years, the Science Center has supported startups, research, and economic development in the life sciences, healthcare, physical sciences, and emerging technology sectors. As a result, graduate firms and current residents of the Science Center’s incubator support one out of every 100 jobs in the Greater Philadelphia region and drive $13 billion in economic activity in the region annually. By providing resources and programming for any stage of a business’s lifecycle, the Science Center helps scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators take their concepts from idea to IPO – and beyond. For more information about the Science Center, go to http://www.sciencecenter.org About the QED Program The QED Program was launched in April 2009. A common participation agreement that defines matching funds, indirect costs, and intellectual property management, has been signed by 21 universities and research institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware: The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Delaware State University, Drexel University, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, Lehigh University, Monell Chemical Senses Center, New Jersey Institute of Technology, The Pennsylvania State University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia University, Rowan University, Rutgers University, Temple University, Thomas Jefferson University, University of Delaware, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Widener University, and The Wistar Institute.
News Article | February 15, 2017
SAE International will honor two NASCAR safety experts with the Ralph H. Isbrandt Automotive Safety Engineering Award. John Patalak, Senior Director of Safety Engineering, NASCAR Research and Development; and Tom Gideon, recently retired Senior Director of Safety Engineering, NASCAR Research Development and Safety, will be honored for their SAE International technical paper, “Development and Implementation of a Quasi-Static Test for Seat Integrated Seat Belt Restraint System Anchorages” (2015-01-0739). The two will receive their awards during the SAE 2017 Government/Industry Meeting, Jan. 25-27, in Washington, D.C. Patalak’s work at NASCAR includes researching, developing and approving driver and vehicle safety systems and investigating vehicle crashworthiness and occupant protection issues. Prior to NASCAR, he worked for an engineering consulting firm specializing in vehicle crashworthiness and occupant protection. A licensed Professional Engineer, Patalak graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and is currently a graduate student concentrating in biomechanics at the Virginia Tech - Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. Gideon retired as Senior Director of Safety from NASCAR in 2016. Gideon joined NASCAR in 2009 as Director-Safety R&D; before that, he served as Safety Manager for GM Racing with General Motors. Gideon is a Professional Engineer with a BSME from The Ohio State University. He is the author/co-author of several SAE International papers on driver’s safety, and is also a Board Member of the International Council of Motorsports Sciences (ICMS). The SAE 2017 Go vernment/Industry Meeting provides a ttendees with the opportunity to connect directly with the key players driving advanced automotive, fuels technology and pending legislation. For the most up-to-date information about sessions, special events, and more, please visit the SAE 2017 Government/Industry Meeting website at http://www.sae.org/gim. SAE International is a global association committed to being the ultimate knowledge source for the engineering profession. By uniting over 127,000 engineers and technical experts, we drive knowledge and expertise across a broad spectrum of industries. We act on two priorities: encouraging a lifetime of learning for mobility engineering professionals and setting the standards for industry engineering. We strive for a better world through the work of our philanthropic SAE Foundation, including programs like A World in Motion® and the Collegiate Design Series™.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Vitamin D supplements protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu, according to a study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) Vitamin D supplements protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu, according to a study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). The study provides the most robust evidence yet that vitamin D has benefits beyond bone and muscle health, and could have major implications for public health policy, including the fortification of foods with vitamin D to tackle high levels of deficiency in the UK. The results, published in the BMJ, are based on a new analysis of raw data from around 11,000 participants in 25 clinical trials conducted in 14 countries including the UK, USA, Japan, India, Afghanistan, Belgium, Italy, Australia and Canada. Individually, these trials yielded conflicting results, with some reporting that vitamin D protected against respiratory infections, and others showing no effect. Lead researcher Professor Adrian Martineau from QMUL said: "This major collaborative research effort has yielded the first definitive evidence that vitamin D really does protect against respiratory infections. Our analysis of pooled raw data from each of the 10,933 trial participants allowed us to address the thorny question of why vitamin D 'worked' in some trials, but not in others. "The bottom line is that the protective effects of vitamin D supplementation are strongest in those who have the lowest vitamin D levels, and when supplementation is given daily or weekly rather than in more widely spaced doses. "Vitamin D fortification of foods provides a steady, low-level intake of vitamin D that has virtually eliminated profound vitamin D deficiency in several countries. By demonstrating this new benefit of vitamin D, our study strengthens the case for introducing food fortification to improve vitamin D levels in countries such as the UK where profound vitamin D deficiency is common." Vitamin D - the 'sunshine vitamin' - is thought to protect against respiratory infections by boosting levels of antimicrobial peptides - natural antibiotic-like substances - in the lungs. Results of the study fit with the observation that colds and 'flu are commonest in winter and spring, when levels of vitamin D are at their lowest. They may also explain why vitamin D protects against asthma attacks, which are commonly triggered by respiratory viruses. Daily or weekly supplementation halved the risk of acute respiratory infection in people with the lowest baseline vitamin D levels, below 25 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L). However, people with higher baseline vitamin D levels also benefited, although the effect was more modest (10 per cent risk reduction). Overall, the reduction in risk of acute respiratory infection induced by vitamin D was on a par with the protective effect of injectable 'flu vaccine against 'flu-like illnesses. Acute respiratory infections are a major cause of global morbidity and mortality. Upper respiratory infections such as colds and 'flu are the commonest reason for GP consultations and days off work. Acute lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia are less common, but caused an estimated 2.65 million deaths worldwide in 2013. Vitamin D supplementation is safe and inexpensive, so reductions in acute respiratory infections brought about by vitamin D supplementation could be highly cost-effective. The study was conducted by a consortium of 25 investigators from 21 institutions worldwide* and funded by the National Institute for Health Research. Joel Winston, Public Relations Manager (School of Medicine and Dentistry) Queen Mary University of London firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 7943 / +44 (0)7970 096 188 * Institutions involved in the research: Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital (Tel Hashomer, Israel), Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth (NH, USA), Harvard School of Public Health (Boston, MA, USA), Jikei University School of Medicine (Tokyo, Japan), Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden), Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston, MA, USA), McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), Medical University of Lodz (Poland), QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (Queensland, Australia), Queen Mary University of London (UK), The Pennsylvania State University (Hershey, PA, USA), Università degli Studi di Milano (Milan, Italy), Universitair ziekenhuis Leuven (Belgium), University of Auckland (New Zealand), University of Birmingham (UK), University of Colorado School of Medicine (Aurora, CO, USA), University of Delhi (India), University of Otago (Christchurch, New Zealand), University of Tampere (Finland), University of Tasmania (Australia), Winthrop University Hospital (Mineola, NY, USA). Research paper: 'Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data'. Martineau et al. BMJ 2017 Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) is one of the UK's leading universities, and one of the largest institutions in the University of London, with 23,120 students from more than 155 countries. A member of the Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our research. In the most recent national assessment of the quality of research, we were placed ninth in the UK (REF 2014). As well as our main site at Mile End - which is home to one of the largest self-contained residential campuses in London - we have campuses at Whitechapel, Charterhouse Square, and West Smithfield dedicated to the study of medicine, and a base for legal studies at Lincoln's Inn Fields. We have a rich history in London with roots in Europe's first public hospital, St Barts; England's first medical school, The London; one of the first colleges to provide higher education to women, Westfield College; and the Victorian philanthropic project, the People's Palace at Mile End. Today, as well as retaining these close connections to our local community, we are known for our international collaborations in both teaching and research. QMUL has an annual turnover of £350m, a research income worth £125m (2014/15), and generates employment and output worth £700m to the UK economy each year. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (http://www. ).
News Article | March 2, 2017
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--AgTech Accelerator™, the unique startup accelerator vehicle dedicated to emerging agricultural technologies, today announced the launch of its first AgTech startup, Boragen Inc., with a $10 million Series A financing round. Boragen is developing a novel synthetic chemistry platform, initially focusing on next-generation fungicides aimed to mitigate pest resistance and allow for more sustainable farming methods. Boragen’s versatile approach also has the potential to impact a number of important market-facing issues in the animal health, crop protection and pharmaceutical industries. The investors participating in Boragen’s financing include AgTech Accelerator’s investment syndicate partners: Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Bayer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Elanco Animal Health, Flagship Pioneering, Hatteras Venture Partners, Mountain Group Capital, Pappas Capital and Syngenta Ventures. Integrating the investor syndicate’s expertise, a diverse scientific advisory board, the efficiency of a single management team and flexible access to mission critical facilities in Research Triangle Park, AgTech Accelerator’s unique model removes potential business development hurdles and allows Boragen’s technical team to focus on achieving value-generating discovery and development milestones. “Agricultural innovation is critical to addressing food and water shortages, and many other challenges facing the global agricultural system. AgTech Accelerator’s unique model provides its emerging companies with the necessary resources to successfully develop technologies across the crop and animal health value chains, filling important innovation gaps in AgTech,” said Joel S. Marcus, co-founder and chairman of AgTech Accelerator, and chairman, CEO and founder of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. (NYSE: ARE) and Alexandria Venture Investments. “Boragen’s world-class science and research team is working to develop innovative technology that increases crop yield and allows for implementation of more sustainable farming methods. These types of advances are a key area of investment interest for our team.” Fungicides play a crucial role in ensuring global agricultural production needs are met. However, some disease-causing fungi are susceptible to resistance, especially as most fungicides have a single-site mode of action, which can be a threat to food production. Boragen is based on technology with a novel mode of action, licensed from The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), that helps address this challenge. Developed by researchers Stephen J. Benkovic, Ph.D., and C. Tony Liu, Ph.D., the Boragen technology aims to mitigate fungicide resistance and reduce the overall amount of chemicals applied per acre. “Boragen is a tremendous first investment,” said John W. Dombrosky, CEO of AgTech Accelerator, who will also serve as CEO of Boragen. “Boragen’s differentiated platforms will meet a global need for new fungicide options that will help farmers protect against resistance, while upholding standard stewardship practices of rotating chemistries with different modes of action. This investment also powerfully demonstrates the flexibility of the AgTech Accelerator model. When we see a really exciting technology, such as Boragen’s, our individual investors are able to bring additional capital into the deal, immediately increasing the speed and scope of milestones and plans.” Boragen’s office and lab headquarters will be located within AgTech Accelerator’s facilities in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Boragen’s world-class team of founders includes field-leading scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn State University, Stanford University and The Scripps Research Institute. Boragen’s board of directors is comprised of world-renowned synthetic chemists and experts in fungal genetics and molecular biology, as well as seasoned and successful entrepreneurs with deep management experience: Boragen Inc., established in 2017 in Research Triangle Park, is focused on leveraging the unique chemical properties of boron to develop novel synthetic chemistry platforms to produce next-generation fungicides that support more sustainable farming methods. The company’s lead compound decreases the probability of fungicide resistance and reduces the amount of chemical applied while maintaining performance and efficacy. AgTech Accelerator, established in 2016 in Research Triangle Park, is a unique startup accelerator vehicle focused on discovering and developing emerging agricultural technology companies. Leveraging its single, highly engaged, shared management team, committed investors and academic institutional partners, AgTech Accelerator identifies, forms, finances and manages the most promising emerging agriculture companies to drive commercialization. For more information, visit www.agtechaccelerator.com.
News Article | February 22, 2017
In 1896 archaeologists excavating Pueblo Bonito, a 650-room, multistory brick edifice in northwestern New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, found the remains of 14 people in a burial crypt. Necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry made up of thousands of turquoise and shell beads accompanied the bones. The artifacts signaled that these individuals were elite members of the ancient Chaco society, one of the most important civilizations in the American Southwest. The excavations at Pueblo Bonito revealed the splendors of Chaco culture, which flourished between about A.D. 800 and 1250. The ancient Chacoans constructed at least a dozen great houses like Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon during its heyday, and dozens of other Chacoan settlements thrived in what is today the Four Corners region where the borders of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet. Soon after the excavations ended, archaeologists whisked these human remains off to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, where most of them have resided ever since. Every so often researchers take the skulls out of their cardboard storage boxes on the museum’s 5th floor and remove the rest of the bones from wooden drawers lining a nearby hallway, laying them out on long tables to study them. They want to know how these people were related to one another and what this elite group might say about how Chaco society was organized. But they have had only limited clues. Continuing excavations at Chaco over the years have suggested that most people lived in smaller adobe residences surrounding the great houses, leading the majority of archaeologists to conclude Chaco society was hierarchically structured: Elite groups had dominion over cultural, religious and political life and enjoyed special privileges. Now an analysis of DNA from the Pueblo Bonito remains is providing intimate new details about these elite groups and who belonged to them. In a paper published online this week in Nature Communications researchers report the remains belonged to a single maternal line—what the team calls a matrilineal “dynasty”—that lasted for centuries. Other scientists hailed the research as a technical tour de force that helps fulfill the promise of ancient DNA to reveal the lives of ancient peoples. But not everyone agrees with the team’s conclusions, and some experts have criticized their decision not to consult with indigenous groups before going ahead with the research. Archaeologists Douglas Kennett at The Pennsylvania State University, Stephen Plog of the University of Virginia and their colleagues took a multipronged approach to studying the Pueblo Bonito remains. They first obtained direct radiocarbon dates from 11 of the burials, which ranged from between A.D. 800 and 850 for the earliest to about 1130 for the latest. The dates established that the burials spanned a period of some 330 years. Next the team extracted so-called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the remains. Mitochondria are tiny subcellular bodies that serve as the power plants for living cells, and their DNA is only inherited via the mother. The researchers were able to sequence an average of 98 percent of the mtDNA from nine individuals spanning the entire 330-year chronological sequence. Remarkably, all nine sequences were identical, meaning that each generation descended from the same original maternal ancestor. Finally, in an effort to tease out specific family relationships, the team sequenced nuclear DNA—which is inherited from both the mother and father—from six of the burials. These sequences suggested that at least two pairs of individuals were very closely related and probably represented a mother–daughter and grandmother–grandson relationship. The authors argue this elite group, in which power and influence flowed from mothers to their children, ruled at Pueblo Bonito from the earliest days of its founding around A.D. 800. Plog says the group’s clout probably stemmed from its control of ritual practices at Pueblo Bonito, as evidence by the discovery of objects such as carved wooden flutes and ceremonial staffs in the burial crypt. The study provides “impressively high resolution” of these matrilineal family ties, says Johannes Krause, a paleogeneticist at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Jennifer Raff, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas, agrees. “Paleogenomics approaches like this one can give us insights into the lives of ancient peoples on a scale never before possible.” Neither were involved with the study. The team’s interpretation of the genetic results makes sense to a number of outside researchers. “This indicates that hereditary leadership was present at the time of Pueblo Bonito’s founding” rather than gradually developing later as some earlier studies had suggested, says Jill Neitzel, an archaeologist at the University of Delaware. “The data show a group of related women, and some men, who can be argued to have been the persistent leaders of Pueblo Bonito for more than 300 years,” says Paul Reed, an archaeologist with Tucson, Ariz.–based Archaeology Southwest. “This research provides some of the most important information about Chaco in many decades,” says Paul Minnis, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma. “While most every scholar recognizes that Chaco was centrally organized, the nature of that organization has remained maddeningly opaque.” Yet Minnis and others question whether the team is right to call this elite group a dynasty, a term that usually refers to kings and queens who exercise sole rule over vast territories and populations. The Pueblo Bonito group “was clearly an important one,” says Barbara Mills, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “But was it the only one?” In her view the findings do not prove their power and influence stretched beyond Pueblo Bonito itself, to include all of Chaco Canyon or even the wider “Chaco world.” Nevertheless, the authors argue their results may resolve another longstanding question. Today’s Pueblo peoples claim, on fairly firm archaeological grounds, to be the direct descendants of the Chacoans; so do the Navajo, on whose land Chaco Canyon now sits. In many modern Pueblo groups, including the Hopi and Zuni of Arizona and New Mexico, respectively, descent and inheritance are determined by one’s membership in a maternal clan. (A similar arrangement prevails among Orthodox and some Conservative Jews, for whom Jewish identity depends on having a Jewish mother.) Did they inherit this arrangement from their ancient Chacoan ancestors? Or, as archaeologist John Ware of the Amerind Foundation in Arizona has argued, did early kinship ties in Chaco society give way to rule by so-called “sodalities” based on shared ritual knowledge and practices, such as priests and brotherhoods, in which case some modern Pueblos may have developed their matrilineal organization independently? Kennett, Plog and their colleagues argue their findings support the hypothesis of direct continuity between Chacoan matrilines and those of many Pueblo groups today. Even as the work lends new support to the affinities between modern indigenous groups and ancient Chacoans, the researchers’ efforts have landed them in a minefield of research ethics. In 1990 Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which dictates human remains and other artifacts found on federal or tribal lands must be repatriated to tribal groups if they can successfully establish a direct cultural relationship to them. In some instances such as the famed controversy over the 8,500-year-old Kennewick Man from Washington State, Native Americans and researchers have fought bitterly over who had right of possession. In the case of the Chaco remains the AMNH decided the NAGPRA did not apply, meaning the researchers were not legally required to get approval from the tribes before conducting research on the remains. In a statement approved by the paper’s 14 authors, the team said that in deciding to not consult the tribes, it relied on the AMNH’s determination that “the cultural complexity of the region made it impossible to establish a clear ancestor–descendant relationship with specific modern communities based on existing data.” The AMNH, in a separate statement, said “the research had considerable scientific merit with little impact on the artifacts and human remains,” adding that it had contacted “potentially affiliated tribes” during the late 1990s but that “none came forward to claim affiliation.” But that decision does not sit well with some critics. “Despite the fact the authors’ work was technically legal, the ethics here are questionable,” says Chaco researcher Ruth Van Dyke of Binghamton University in New York State. “Studies using ancient indigenous DNA should not be done without tribal consultation.” Rebecca Tsosie, a law professor of Native American descent at the University of Arizona who specializes in tribal and U.S. Indian law, agrees. “I am dismayed that there was not an effort to engage contemporary tribal leaders prior to undertaking and publishing this study,” Tsosie says, adding that the research is a “prime example” of “a study by cultural outsiders to dictate the truth of the history and structure of governance of the cultural insiders, Pueblo Indian nations.” Team member George Perry, an ancient DNA expert at Penn State, says that whereas the researchers did not formally consult with tribal leaders nor seek their approval to carry out the study beforehand, he is now “working diligently to engage with multiple groups in the Southwest” to “present and discuss the results of the research.” Getting the blessing of indigenous groups may be key to further research because there are other burials at Pueblo Bonito and other Chacoan sites yet to be studied. Moreover, some archaeologists say, some indigenous people might eventually opt to have their own DNA sequenced to see how closely related they might be to ancient Chacoan ancestors—a step taken by at least one Washington State tribal group that turned out to have a close genetic affiliation with Kennewick Man. In that example the scientific evidence backed up tribal arguments for repatriation of what they call “The Ancient One,” and its remains were reinterred by Northwest tribes on February 18 in a secret location. Some archaeologists are hoping the new study will be just a first step toward a fuller and more detailed understanding of how the ancient Chacoans lived. “How this matriline functioned in the ritual, social and political life of the Chacoans demands more research,” Minnis says. Until other burials can be studied, “we cannot answer the question as to whether the Pueblo Bonito matriline was recognized only by that community or by Chaco as a whole.”
News Article | February 20, 2017
DNA, the stuff of life, may very well also pack quite the jolt for engineers trying to advance the development of tiny, low-cost electronic devices. Much like flipping your light switch at home---only on a scale 1,000 times smaller than a human hair---an ASU-led team has now developed the first controllable DNA switch to regulate the flow of electricity within a single, atomic-sized molecule. The new study, led by ASU Biodesign Institute researcher Nongjian Tao, was published in the advanced online journal Nature Communications ( DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14471). "It has been established that charge transport is possible in DNA, but for a useful device, one wants to be able to turn the charge transport on and off. We achieved this goal by chemically modifying DNA," said Tao, who directs the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors and is a professor in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. "Not only that, but we can also adapt the modified DNA as a probe to measure reactions at the single-molecule level. This provides a unique way for studying important reactions implicated in disease, or photosynthesis reactions for novel renewable energy applications." Engineers often think of electricity like water, and the research team's new DNA switch acts to control the flow of electrons on and off, just like water coming out of a faucet. Previously, Tao's research group had made several discoveries to understand and manipulate DNA to more finely tune the flow of electricity through it. They found they could make DNA behave in different ways -- and could cajole electrons to flow like waves according to quantum mechanics, or "hop" like rabbits in the way electricity in a copper wire works --creating an exciting new avenue for DNA-based, nano-electronic applications. Tao assembled a multidisciplinary team for the project, including ASU postdoctoral student Limin Xiang and Li Yueqi performing bench experiments, Julio Palma working on the theoretical framework, with further help and oversight from collaborators Vladimiro Mujica (ASU) and Mark Ratner (Northwestern University). To accomplish their engineering feat, Tao's group, modified just one of DNA's iconic double helix chemical letters, abbreviated as A, C, T or G, with another chemical group, called anthraquinone (Aq). Anthraquinone is a three-ringed carbon structure that can be inserted in between DNA base pairs but contains what chemists call a redox group (short for reduction, or gaining electrons or oxidation, losing electrons). These chemical groups are also the foundation for how our bodies' convert chemical energy through switches that send all of the electrical pulses in our brains, our hearts and communicate signals within every cell that may be implicated in the most prevalent diseases. The modified Aq-DNA helix could now help it perform the switch, slipping comfortably in between the rungs that make up the ladder of the DNA helix, and bestowing it with a new found ability to reversibly gain or lose electrons. Through their studies, when they sandwiched the DNA between a pair of electrodes, they careful controlled their electrical field and measured the ability of the modified DNA to conduct electricity. This was performed using a staple of nano-electronics, a scanning tunneling microscope, which acts like the tip of an electrode to complete a connection, being repeatedly pulled in and out of contact with the DNA molecules in the solution like a finger touching a water droplet. "We found the electron transport mechanism in the present anthraquinone-DNA system favors electron "hopping" via anthraquinone and stacked DNA bases," said Tao. In addition, they found they could reversibly control the conductance states to make the DNA switch on (high-conductance) or switch-off (low conductance). When anthraquinone has gained the most electrons (its most-reduced state), it is far more conductive, and the team finely mapped out a 3-D picture to account for how anthraquinone controlled the electrical state of the DNA. For their next project, they hope to extend their studies to get one step closer toward making DNA nano-devices a reality. "We are particularly excited that the engineered DNA provides a nice tool to examine redox reaction kinetics, and thermodynamics the single molecule level," said Tao. 3 Department of Chemistry, The Pennsylvania State University, Fayette, The Eberly Campus, Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to N.T. (email: email@example.com)
News Article | February 15, 2017
Predicting earthquakes is the holy grail of seismology. After all, quakes are deadly precisely because they’re erratic—striking without warning, triggering fires and tsunamis, and sometimes killing hundreds of thousands of people. If scientists could warn the public weeks or months in advance that a large temblor is coming, evacuation and other preparations could save countless lives. So far, no one has found a reliable way to forecast earthquakes, even though many scientists have tried. Some experts consider it a hopeless endeavor. “You’re viewed as a nutcase if you say you think you’re going to make progress on predicting earthquakes,” says Paul Johnson, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. But he is trying anyway, using a powerful tool he thinks could potentially solve this impossible puzzle: artificial intelligence. Researchers around the world have spent decades studying various phenomena they thought might reliably predict earthquakes: foreshocks, electromagnetic disturbances, changes in groundwater chemistry—even unusual animal behavior. But none of these has consistently worked. Mathematicians and physicists even tried applying machine learning to quake prediction in the 1980s and ’90s, to no avail. “The whole topic is kind of in limbo,” says Chris Scholz, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory. But advances in technology—improved machine-learning algorithms and supercomputers as well as the ability to store and work with vastly greater amounts of data—may now give Johnson’s team a new edge in using artificial intelligence. “If we had tried this 10 years ago, we would not have been able to do it,” says Johnson, who is collaborating with researchers from several institutions. Along with more sophisticated computing, he and his team are trying something in the lab no one else has done before: They are feeding machinesraw data—massive sets of measurements taken continuously before, during and after lab-simulated earthquake events. They then allow the algorithm to sift through the data to look for patterns that reliably signal when an artificial quake will happen. In addition to lab simulations, the team has also begun doing the same type of machine-learning analysis using raw seismic data from real temblors. This is different from how scientists have attempted quake prediction in the past—they typically used processed seismic data, called “earthquake catalogues,” to look for predictive clues. These data sets contain only earthquake magnitudes, locations and times, and leave out the rest of the information. By using raw data instead, Johnson’s machine algorithm may be able to pick up on important predictive markers. Johnson and collaborator Chris Marone, a geophysicist at The Pennsylvania State University, have already run lab experiments using the school’s earthquake simulator. The simulator produces quakes randomly and generates data for an open-source machine-learning algorithm—and the system has achieved some surprising results. The researchers found the computer algorithm picked up on a reliable signal in acoustical data—“creaking and grinding” noises that continuously occur as the lab-simulated tectonic plates move over time. The algorithm revealed these noises change in a very specific way as the artificial tectonic system gets closer to a simulated earthquake—which means Johnson can look at this acoustical signal at any point in time, and put tight bounds on when a quake might strike. For example, if an artificial quake was going to hit in 20 seconds, the researchers could analyze the signal to accurately predict the event to within a second. “Not only could the algorithm tell us when an event might take place within very fine time bounds—it actually told us about physics of the system that we were not paying attention to,” Johnson explains. “In retrospect it was obvious, but we had managed to overlook it for years because we were focused on the processed data.” In their lab experiments the team looked at the acoustic signals and predicted quake events retroactively. But Johnson says the forecasting should work in real time as well. Of course natural temblors are far more complex than lab-generated ones, so what works in the lab may not hold true in the real world. For instance, seismologists have not yet observed in natural seismic systems the creaking and grinding noises the algorithm detected throughout the lab simulations (although Johnson thinks the sounds may exist, and his team is looking into this). Unsurprisingly, many seismologists are skeptical that machine learning will provide a breakthrough—perhaps in part because they have been burned by so many failed past attempts. “It’s exciting research, and I think we’ll learn a lot of physics from [Johnson’s] work, but there are a lot of problems in implementing this with real earthquakes,” Scholz says. Johnson is also cautious—so much so that he hesitates to call what he is doing “earthquake prediction.” “We recognize that you have to be careful about credibility if you claim something that no one believes you can do,” he says. Johnson also notes he is currently only pursuing a method for estimating the timing of temblors, not the magnitude—he says predicting the size of a quake is an even tougher problem. But Scholz and other experts not affiliated with this research still think Johnson should continue exploring this approach. “There’s a possibility it could be really great,” explains David Lockner, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey. “The power of machine learning is that you can throw everything in the pot, and the useful parameters naturally fall out of it.” So even if the noise signals from Johnson’s lab experiments do not pan out, he and other scientists may still be able to apply machine learning to natural earthquake data and shake out other signals that do work. Johnson has already started to apply his technique to real-world data—the machine-learning algorithm will be analyzing earthquake measurements gathered by scientists in France, at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and from other sources. If this method succeeds, he thinks it is possible experts could predict quakes months or even years ahead of time. “This is just the beginning,” he says. “I predict, within the next five to 10 years machine learning will transform the way we do science.”
News Article | March 1, 2017
Organic farmers have to make hard choices between protecting soil from erosion and controlling weeds. For example, large-scale organic farming relies heavily on tillage. Tilling breaks up the soil to kill weeds and prepare for planting. But intense tillage can compact soil, cause erosion, and deplete nutrients. As a result, some organic farmers are turning to cover crops for weed control. Cover crops are planted after harvest as an in-between crop. Cover crops improve the soil with living roots that protect it from erosion and add nutrients. Cover crops are usually plowed down, but another option is flattening the cover crop to form a thick carpet, or mat. They do this with a roller crimper--a heavy, rolling drum attached to a tractor. The farmer then uses a no-till planter to plant seeds into the flattened mat for the next season. The new crop grows through the cover crop residue, which helps suppress weeds. This method--called cover crop-based organic rotational no-till--allows farmers to skip spring tillage and weeding. By simply flattening a cover crop, farmers don't have to disturb the soil for a new crop. The flattened cover crop suppresses weeds and retains soil moisture. However, like many farming practices, this method has trade-offs. For example, if you flatten it too late, the cover crop might produce seeds. The result is a volunteer, or weedy, cover crop competing with next season's cash crop. And if you flatten the cover crop too early, it may regrow. It's all in the timing, says crop scientist Clair Keene. Keene is a researcher at The Pennsylvania State University. Keene and her colleagues wanted to find that perfect timing. So they planted an experiment in three different states: Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. For three years, they planted cover crops like hairy vetch-triticale and cereal rye, followed by cash crops like corn and soybeans. The researchers flattened the cover crops at different stages of growth to find the right combination. Was it possible to have a cover crop that was big enough to suppress weeds, but not too big that it produced seeds? They found that generally, letting the cover crop grow longer produces the best, if not perfect, results. "There's always trade-offs," said Keene. "A bigger cover crop is better at suppressing weeds as a mulch, but that comes with the cost of letting that crop grow longer, restricting the growing season for the corn or soybean." Farmers want to plant their cash crop as early as possible, especially in northern states. If the cover crop is too small to be flattened, then they have to till it under, which defeats the purpose of improving soil quality. But if a cover crop reigns in a field for too long, it might start to produce seeds. Every cover crop is a little different. For instance, the group found that cereal rye needs to be rolled in the middle of grain fill so that it doesn't produce seed and show up when it isn't wanted. And although hairy vetch is great at adding nitrogen to the soil, it can survive the roller crimper and compete with cash crops. The researchers also found rolling the cover crops twice instead of once helped ensure the cover crops were killed. Despite the tricky timing, Keene says rolling cover crops to form a mat has a lot of potential. Without it, "you'd have to plow the field multiple times, harrow it, plant it, and do a lot of weeding," she warns. "That's a lot of time in the tractor and a lot of diesel fuel." Read the full results of their experiment in Agronomy Journal. Funding for the reduced-tillage organic systems experiment was provided by USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative.