For Development in Brazil, Two Crops Are Better Than One

It's not just about agriculture. Growing two crops a year in the same field improves schools, helps advance public sanitation, raises median income, and creates jobs.

 New research finds that double cropping -- planting two crops in a field in the same year -- is associated with positive signs of economic development for rural Brazilians.

The research focused the state of MatoGrosso, the epicenter of an agricultural revolution that has made Brazil one of the world's top producers of soybeans, corn, cotton, and other staple crops. That Brazil has become an agricultural powerhouse over the last decade or so is clear. What has been less clear is who is reaping the economic rewards of that agricultural intensification -- average Brazilians or wealthy landowners and outside investors.

Leah VanWey, associate professor of sociology at Brown University and the study's lead author, says her results suggest at least one type of agricultural intensification -- double cropping -- is associated with development that improves well-being for average rural Brazilians.

Looking at agricultural and economic data from the last decade, VanWey found that in municípios (counties) where double cropping is common, GDP and median per capita income were both substantially higher. Double cropping was also associated with higher quality schools and better public sanitation. "We looked at two indicators of private goods and two indicators of public goods," VanWey said. "Overall, we find this really nice pattern of impacts on development associated with double cropping. These benefits seem to be widespread through the population."

Meanwhile, intensification to single-crop fields from pasture with low stocking rates was not associated with development gains, the research found. VanWey says that is probably because double cropping is more labor intensive, which creates jobs, and more lucrative, which creates more tax revenue that can be invested in public goods. That was evidenced by a case study of two counties within MatoGrosso that was part of this new research.

"The community with the most double cropping also has a soy processing plant that employs thousands of workers as well as complementary poultry and swine raising and processing," VanWey said. "In the long run there isn't much money in just growing things and selling them, but processing allows the local area and workers to retain more of the per-unit cost of the final product."

To understand how land use is associated with economic development, VanWey teamed with John Mustard, professor of geological sciences at Brown, and Stephanie Spera, Mustard's graduate student. Spera and Mustard used imaging from NASA's Terra satellite to track land use changes in MatoGrosso from 2000 to 2011. They captured satellite images of the region every 16 days for a year. They looked for peaks in the greenness of the fields followed by a rapid loss of greenness, indicating the ripening and subsequent harvesting of a crop. Two peaks in greenness in the same year is an indicator that a field is double-cropped. Spera and Mustard recorded images from 2000 to 2001, and again from 2010 to 2011, to see how usage had changed over the decade. They found substantial increases in both single- and double-cropped fields.

VanWey then matched those data to local economic data, with the help of Brown undergraduates Rebecca de Sa and Dan Mahr.

The research showed that intensification to single-crop fields from pasture had no effect on economic variables. Double cropping, however, was associated with strong gains. For example, where double cropping was common, median income was substantially higher. According to VanWey's calculations, median income for citizens of MatoGrosso would be decreased from 346 Brazilian reals per month (about $190) to 144 reals without the effects of double cropping. On the other hand, if all areas double cropped, monthly income would increase to 459 reals.

The positive association with public goods such as schools was strong as well. For that analysis, VanWey looked at a 10-point quality assessment scale used by the Brazilian government. She calculated that if all areas of MatoGrosso double cropped, scores on the assessment for public schools would increase from an average of 4.2 to 5.4.

The increases in measures of both personal wealth and public goods suggest widespread economic development associated with double cropping, VanWey concludes. However she's not yet ready to advocate for public policy steps like blanket subsidies for double cropping. More research needs to be done, she says, to find out why double cropping thrives in some places but not others.

She and her colleagues are working on those questions now.


Source: sciencedaily



Scientists create protein 'superglue' from flesh-eating bacteria that could help detect cancer

The terms ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ and ‘good news’ do not normally go together, but a group of researchers from the University of Oxford believe they have engineered a protein from flesh-eating bacteria that acts as a molecular ‘superglue’ and could be used to help detect cancer cells.

Mark Howarth and his team genetically engineered the glue from a protein, FbaB, that helps Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes) bacteria infect cells. S. pyogenes is one of the microbes that can cause the rare necrotizing fasciitis, a soft tissue infection, in which the bacteria can cause gangrene, tissue death, systemic disease and toxic shock.

The team split FbaB into two parts, a larger protein and a smaller protein subunit, called a peptide. Using an abbreviation of S. pyogenes, the small peptide was named “Spy Tag” and the larger protein “Spy Catcher.” The gluing action occurs when Spy Tag and Spy Catcher meet.  The two quickly lock together by forming a strong chemical bond. Spy Catcher and Spy Tag can be attached to the millions of proteins in the human body and other living things, thus gluing proteins together.

Speaking at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans Dr Howarth has  said: “We’ve turned the tables and put one kind of flesh-eating bacterium to good use. We have engineered one of its proteins into a molecular superglue that adheres so tightly that the set-up we used to measure the strength actually broke. It resists high and low temperatures, acids and other harsh conditions and seals quickly.

“With this material we can lock proteins together in ways that could underpin better diagnostic tests — for early detection of cancer cells circulating in the blood, for instance. There are many uses in research, such as probing how the forces inside cells change the biochemistry and affect health and disease.”

A future use of the technology would be to test for circulating tumor cells or CTCs, cells which tumors shed into the bloodstream where they act to help spread the cancer to other parts of the body. Detecting CTCs has the potential to help early diagnosis of cancer from samples of blood rather than by biopsies. Detection could also help in determining when new treatments are required to try and stop the cancer from spreading.

The system can glue proteins together at any point on the protein, allowing “many different ways to label proteins and gives us new approaches to assemble proteins together for diagnostic tests,” Dr Howarth said.

The research team are working with Isis Innovation, the University of Oxford’s technology transfer company, to find potential partners to bring the Spy system to the market.

Chris Stevenson

Source: The Independent

Khaled Falhoot

Tiny Wireless Device Shines Light On Mouse Brain, Generating Reward

Using a miniature electronic device implanted in the brain, scientists have tapped into the internal reward system of mice, prodding neurons to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure.

The researchers, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed tiny devices, containing light emitting diodes (LEDs) the size of individual neurons. The devices activate brain cells with light. The scientists report their findings April 12 in the journal Science.

"This strategy should allow us to identify and map brain circuits involved in complex behaviors related to sleep, depression, addiction and anxiety," says co-principal investigator Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Washington University. "Understanding which populations of neurons are involved in these complex behaviors may allow us to target specific brain cells that malfunction in depression, pain, addiction and other disorders."

For the study, Washington University neuroscientists teamed with engineers at the University of Illinois to design microscale (LED) devices thinner than a human hair. This was the first application of the devices in optogenetics, an area of neuroscience that uses light to stimulate targeted pathways in the brain. The scientists implanted them into the brains of mice that had been genetically engineered so that some of their brain cells could be activated and controlled with light.

"We used the LED devices to activate networks of brain cells that are influenced by the things you would find rewarding in life, like sex or chocolate," says co-first author Jordan G. McCall, a neuroscience graduate student in Washington University's Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. "When the brain cells were activated to release dopamine, the mice quickly learned to poke their noses through the hole even though they didn't receive any food as a reward. They also developed an associated preference for the area near the hole, and they tended to hang around that part of the maze."

The researchers believe the LED implants may be useful in other types of neuroscience studies or may even be applied to different organs. Related devices already are being used to stimulate peripheral nerves for pain management. Other devices with LEDs of multiple colors may be able to activate and control several neural circuits at once. In addition to the tiny LEDs, the devices also carry miniaturized sensors for detecting temperature and electrical activity within the brain.

Bruchas and his colleagues already have begun other studies of mice, using the LED devices to manipulate neural circuits that are involved in social behaviors. This could help scientists better understand what goes on in the brain in disorders such as depression and anxiety.

"We believe these devices will allow us to study complex stress and social interaction behaviors," Bruchas explains. "This technology enables us to map neural circuits with respect to things like stress and pain much more effectively."

Source: science magazine


Dead Star Warps Light of Companion Red Star, Astronomers Say

NASA's Kepler space telescope, in concert with Cornell-led measurements of stars' ultraviolet activity, has observed the effects of a dead star bending the light of its companion red star.

The findings are among the first detections of this effect -- a result predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity -- in binary, or double, star systems.

The dead star, also called a white dwarf, is the burnt-out core of what used to be a star like our sun. It is locked in an orbiting dance with its partner, a small "red dwarf" star. While the tiny white dwarf is physically smaller than the red dwarf, it is more massive. When the white dwarf passed in front of its star, its gravity caused the starlight to observably bend and brighten.

"This white dwarf is about the size of Earth but the mass of the sun," said Phil Muirhead, Ph.D. '11, of the California Institute of Technology and lead author of the findings to be published April 20 in the Astrophysical Journal, titled "Characterizing the cool KOIs: A mutually eclipsing post-common envelope binary."

"It's so hefty that the red dwarf, though larger in physical size, is circling around the white dwarf," Muirhead continued.

The research team used Cornell-led ultraviolet measurements of the star called (Kepler Object of Interest) KOI-256 taken by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), a NASA space telescope operated by Caltech. The GALEX observations were conducted by Cornell researchers Jamie Lloyd, associate professor of astronomy and of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Kevin Covey, former postdoctoral associate now at Lowell Observatory; and Lucianne Walkowicz of Princeton University and Evgenya Shkolnik of Lowell Observatory.

Still in early phases and for which Cornell students are now being recruited by Lloyd, the GALEX program measures ultraviolet activity in all the stars in the Kepler field of view -- an indicator of potential habitability for planets.

Graduate student and co-author Jim Fuller also did a theoretical analysis of the star system in the context of its future and past evolutions.

The red dwarf orbits the white dwarf in just 1.4 days. This orbital period is so short that the stars must have previously undergone a "common-envelope" phase in which the red dwarf orbited within the outer layers of the star that formed the white dwarf, Fuller explained.

Moreover, the short orbital period means the red dwarf's days are numbered: In a few billion years, the intense gravity of the white dwarf will strip material off the red dwarf, forming a hot accretion disk of in-falling material around the white dwarf.

"This system is especially exciting because it allows us to accurately characterize the peaceful state of these systems before the violent mass-transfer phase begins," Fuller said.


Kepler's primary job is to scan stars in search of orbiting planets. As the planets pass by, they block the starlight by miniscule amounts, which Kepler's sensitive detectors can see.

So far, Kepler has identified more than 2,700 planet candidates. Still ongoing is the mission's search for planets similar to Earth in size and temperature that orbit a star like our sun. Ultimately, Kepler will reveal how common Earth-size planets are in the Milky Way galaxy.

To learn more about this particular star system, Muirhead and colleagues also used the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Using a technique called radial velocity, they discovered that the red dwarf was wobbling around like a spinning top. The wobble was too big to be from the tug of a planet. That's when they knew they were looking at a massive white dwarf passing behind the red dwarf, rather than a gas giant passing in front.

One of the consequences of Einstein's theory of general relativity is that gravity bends light. Astronomers regularly observe this phenomenon, often called gravitational lensing, which has been used to discover new planets and hunt for free-floating planets.

In this new study, scientists used gravitational lensing to determine the mass of the white dwarf. By combining this information with all the data they acquired, they were able to accurately measure the mass of the red dwarf and the physical sizes of both stars.

Source story:Science Daily


Universe older than thought

Planck space telescope shows the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background.

The universe is 100 million years older than thought, according to the best-ever map of the oldest light in space.

Europe’s Planck space observatory looked back at the afterglow of the Big Bang, and those results have now added about 80 million years to the universe's age, putting it at 13.81 billion years old, according to Voice of Russia,

The adjustment also means space and time are expanding slightly slower than scientists thought.

These discoveries come from a new all-sky map of ancient cosmic light by the Planck probe, which has measured what's called the cosmic microwave background in greater detail than ever before.