Thursday, April 11, 2013

Surf's up: Turbulence tells sea urchins to settle down

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tumbling in the waves as they hit a rocky shore tells purple sea urchin larvae it's time to settle down and look for a spot to grow into an adult, researchers at the University of California, Davis, Bodega Marine Laboratory have found. The work is published April 8 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"How these animals find their way to the right habitat is a fascinating problem," said Brian Gaylord, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and a researcher at the Bodega Marine Lab. "The turbulence response allows them to tell that they're in the right neighborhood."

Like most shoreline animals, purple sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) have a two-stage life cycle. The young are microscopic, look completely different from adults and drift in the upper levels of the ocean for about a month before settling on a rocky shore and transforming into the familiar spiny adult.

"Once they decide to settle, they attach to a rock and undergo body remodeling into a juvenile sea urchin with spines," Gaylord said.

Over short distances, the larvae can respond to chemical traces in the water, especially substances that might be given off from a rock thick with algae or other food for the growing urchins.

But how do the larvae know they are close enough to the right shoreline habitat to start searching for such signals?

On the California coast, rocky headlands ? the urchins' preferred environment ? are interspersed with long stretches of beach that experience lower levels of turbulence. The larvae don't have the resources to swim for miles along a beach looking for a nice slimy rock, but when carried by currents near a wave-swept rocky reef, the high turbulence tells them to begin a finer-scale search, the researchers found.

Gaylord and co-authors Jason Hodin of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station and Matthew Ferner of San Francisco State University used a device called a Taylor-Couette cell to see how urchin larvae responded to being churned by shear forces comparable to those in waves breaking on a rocky shore.

The Taylor-Couette cell consists of one rotating cylinder inside another, with a layer of fluid in between. When the cylinders spin relative to each other, they set up shear forces in the fluid. Scientists more typically use the device for studying fluid dynamics, especially the transition where flows becomes chaotic and turbulence appears.

Gaylord and his colleagues took the urchin larvae for a spin through a Taylor-Couette cell then exposed them to potassium, known to act as a chemical signal that triggers larvae to begin settling.

Larvae that had been exposed to turbulence responded to the chemical signal earlier in development than those that had not ? in fact, they responded at a stage at which it had previously been believed larvae could not settle.

Especially telling was that neither turbulence nor the chemical signal alone promoted settling at this earlier developmental stage.

The experiment shows that the shift from living free in the ocean to living on a rock is a two-step process, Gaylord said. In the first step, exposure to turbulence initiates an abrupt transition to a state in which the larvae are "competent to settle." A chemical signal triggers the second step, actual settlement, and the larvae then complete their transformation into juvenile sea urchins.

It's not yet clear how the larvae detect turbulence, Gaylord said. That might happen through receptors that respond to stretching or flexing. The two-step settlement process might occur in other species that settle on shorelines, he said.


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Thanks to University of California - Davis for this article.

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Cardiopoietic 'smart' stem cells show promise in heart failure patients: First-in-humans study introduces next generation cell therapy

Apr. 10, 2013 ? Translating a Mayo Clinic stem-cell discovery, an international team has demonstrated that therapy with cardiopoietic (cardiogenically-instructed) or "smart" stem cells can improve heart health for people suffering from heart failure. This is the first application in patients of lineage-guided stem cells for targeted regeneration of a failing organ, paving the way to development of next generation regenerative medicine solutions. Results of the clinical trial appear online of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The multi-center, randomized Cardiopoietic stem cell therapy in heart failure (C-CURE) trial involved heart failure patients from Belgium, Switzerland and Serbia. Patients in the control group received standard care for heart failure in accordance with established guidelines. Patients in the cell therapy arm received, in addition to standard care, cardiopoietic stem cells -- a first-in-class biotherapeutic. In this process, bone marrow was harvested from the top of the patient's hip, and isolated stem cells were treated with a protein cocktail to replicate natural cues of heart development. Derived cardiopoietic stem cells were then injected into the patient's heart.

"The cells underwent an innovative treatment to optimize their repair capacity," says Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., study senior author and director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine. "This study helps us move beyond the science fiction notion of stem cell research, providing clinical evidence for a new approach in cardiovascular regenerative medicine."

Every patient in the stem cell treatment group improved. Heart pumping function improved in each patient within six months following cardiopoietic stem cell treatment. In addition, patients experienced improved fitness and were able to walk longer distances than before stem cell therapy. "The benefit to patients who received cardiopoietic stem cell therapy was significant," Dr. Terzic says.

In an accompanying editorial, Charles Murry, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Washington, Seattle, say, "Six months after treatment, the cell therapy group had a 7 percent absolute improvement in EF (ejection fraction) over baseline, versus a non-significant change in the control group. This improvement in EF is dramatic, particularly given the duration between the ischemic injury and cell therapy. It compares favorably with our most potent therapies in heart failure."

The science supporting this trial is a product of a decade-long journey in decoding principles of stem cell-based heart repair. "Discovery of rare stem cells that could inherently promote heart regeneration provided a critical clue. In following this natural blueprint, we further developed the know-how needed to convert patient-derived stem cells into cells that can reliably repair a failing heart," says Dr. Terzic, underscoring the team effort in this endeavor.

Initial discovery led to the identification of hundreds of proteins involved in cardiogenesis, or the heart development process. The research team then identified which proteins are necessary in helping a stem cell become a reparative cell type, leading to development of a protein cocktail-based procedure that orients stem cells for heart repair. Such upgraded stem cells are called cardiopoietic or heart creative.

Mayo Clinic partnered with Cardio3 Biosciences, a bioscience company in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium, for advanced product development, manufacturing scale-up, and clinical trial execution.

Mayo Clinic and Dr. Terzic have a financial interest related to technology in this research program.

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7 Things to Know About Obama's Budget

Now that President Obama has unveiled his budget, some 65 days late, it?s worth remembering one of the ironies of history. One of the most corrupt presidents?Warren Harding?gave us one of the great reforms, the Budget and Accounting Act, that led to the creation of the Office of Management and Budget. After World War I, Republicans were eager to control government spending, and the idea of taming it with a department that would review proposals and set a deadline for the president to submit his own budget gained credence. Now, as then, we?re dealing with the budget woes caused by war. OK, we do have the additional cleanup from tax cuts and a financial crisis.

So what?s in this tome? Lots of programs get cut: The Environmental Protection Agency's state indoor radon grants? Gone! High-intensity drug-trafficking areas, Office of National Drug Control Policy? Pretty much gone. A bunch of math programs at the National Science Foundation get cut, as does the Presidio Trust that helps preserve and develop the beautiful park in San Francisco. Tons more programs get increases or instituted, from vocational ed programs to nine-figure sums to get state and local governments to cut electricity use. Do they really need to be bribed to spend less?

Because this budget is going to get worked over and taken apart by a Republican House and sclerotic, filibuster-happy Senate, the budget is pretty much a wish list, more useful for what it says about Obama than for predicting what we?re going to end up with. You?ll see a lot of stories about the aggregate size of $3.7 trillion. But here are the things that are really worth knowing:

1. Cigarettes helping kids grow. The president?s budget includes a big preschool initiative paid for by doubling the cigarette tax. Can the president get it through Congress? It?ll be tough. Tobacco taxes are high, and if Republicans are going to give on various deductions, this may be tough to handle.

2. Hiking taxes on wealthier folk.?Well, after raising taxes on individuals making over $400,000 and families making over $450,000 earlier this year, Obama comes back trying to raise $580 billion for deficit reduction by limiting high-income tax benefits. Obama would implement the "Buffett Rule," requiring that households with incomes over $1 million pay at least 30 percent of their income (after charitable giving) in taxes. He?d limit the value of tax deductions and other tax benefits for the top 2 percent of families to 28 percent, reducing these tax benefits to levels closer to what middle-class families get.

3. There?s asteroid money!?This gem from the NASA budget: "Pursues Innovative Approach to Visiting an Asteroid. The Budget includes $78 million for NASA to develop needed technologies and study alternative approaches for a robotic mission to rendezvous with a small asteroid?one that would be harmless to Earth?and move it to a stable location outside the Moon?s orbit." Would be surprised if this Bruce Willis movie doesn't get trimmed.

4. Remember Jack Kemp? The late Republican was the proponent of enterprise zones that sought to help poor areas by cutting taxes. Bill Clinton talked empowerment zones. Now Obama wants to create "promise zones" to rebuild high-poverty communities across the country by attracting private investment to build housing; improve educational opportunities; provide tax incentives for hiring workers and investing within the zones; reduce violence; and assist local leaders in navigating federal programs and cutting red tape. Republicans and Democrats love these policy approaches, so this one could get through.

5. That Social Security measure is big but not that big. $230 billion in savings from using a chained measure of inflation for cost-of-living adjustments throughout the budget. But that?s not until 2023. This year?s budget alone is $3.7 trillion, so such savings are a tiny number compared with the tens of trillions that will be spent over the next decade. Democrats are howling, but some version of this will get through.

6. Hillary didn?t do so well. Hillary Rodham Clinton may have been The Greatest Secretary of State Ever in Our History (according to some), but the State Department takes a 6 percent hit in its budget, although it contains some increases for embassy security, which she long championed during her stint as secretary. Eric Holder?s Justice Department sees a 3 percent hike, with more money for counterterrorism and for state and local crime-prevention programs.

7. TARP winds down.??It?s been more than two years since the Troubled Asset Relief Program has issued new loans and guarantees. Now it?s going out of business. Obama brags that "TARP?s banking programs have generated a positive return for taxpayers, with over $268 billion recovered for taxpayers as of December 31, 2012, compared to the $245 billion originally invested in banks. The progressing economic recovery and the Administration?s prudent management have resulted in an estimated lifetime TARP cost of $47.5 billion, significantly lower than the $341 billion cost originally estimated for the program in its first year." Hey, loan me a few billion and I'll get you a return. The rest of us weren't so fortunate.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Radioactive tuna from Fukushima? Scientists eat it up

Marine biologist Dan Madigan stood on a dock in San Diego and considered some freshly caught Pacific bluefin tuna. The fish had managed to swim 5,000 miles from their spawning grounds near Japan to California's shores, only to end up the catch of local fishermen.

It was August 2011, five months since a magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami had struck in Japan, crippling the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Madigan couldn't stop thinking about pictures he'd seen on TV of Japanese emergency crews dumping radioactive water from the failing reactors into the Pacific Ocean.

The graduate student looked at the tuna and wondered: Could they have transported any of that radiation to California?

Radioactive fish: An article and photo caption in the Feb. 26 Section A about marine animals contaminated by radiation referred to cesium-37 as a known waste product from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster. The references should have said cesium-137. ?

For most people, the thought of radioactive sushi tuna is nightmarish, but for Madigan it represented an opportunity.

If radiation from Fukushima was detectable, scientists might look for traces of the contamination in all sorts of amazing creatures that make epic journeys across the open seas, from tuna to sharks to turtles to birds. They might learn more about where the animals came from, when they made their journeys, and why.

They might learn how a single, man-made event ? the plant failure in Fukushima ? could be linked to the lives and fates of animals making homes over half the globe.

Madigan bagged some tuna steaks he had collected from the fishermen, threw them in a cooler and made a mental note to call Nicholas Fisher, a scientist he knew who would be able to tell him whether the tuna had carried radiation from the disaster.

Maybe the fish could still tell their story.


Madigan began thinking about the globe-spanning migrations of marine animals in 2006, during a fishing trip in the open waters off Costa Rica.

Radioactive fish: An article and photo caption in the Feb. 26 Section A about marine animals contaminated by radiation referred to cesium-37 as a known waste product from Japan?s Fukushima nuclear disaster. The references should have said cesium-137.

For hours, he and his friends saw nothing ? no land, no features in the water, no fish. Then, in a flash, they hooked and released a dozen sailfish, magnificent 150-pound catches known for their spectacular jumping maneuvers and brilliant colors.

"It's black water, and all of a sudden you have a huge animal," said Madigan, a Long Island, N.Y., native who camps on the weekends and catches all of the fish he eats. "Why? Why now? And why here?"

Intrigued, Madigan enrolled in a doctoral program at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, Calif., where scientists used electronic tags to track the journeys of sea creatures such as white sharks, leatherback turtles and the black-footed albatross.

They had also tagged the Pacific bluefin tuna, a creature distinguished by its unusual biology (it's one of the few warm-bodied fish) and its popularity on sushi menus. At a January auction in Tokyo, a buyer paid a record $1.8 million for just one of the fish, which are carved up into toro and other choice bites.

Pacific bluefin tuna migration is mysterious. Only some of the tuna born each year leave the Western Pacific around Japan for California, swimming for two months or more to reach their destination. They stay here for a few years, and then they swim back to the waters where they were born so that they can reproduce. Some tuna are thought to cross the ocean multiple times.

Researchers don't really understand why. It may have to do with food availability, ocean temperatures or other factors.


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Apple to hand out iTunes credits in settlement

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) ? Apple has agreed to give more than $100 million in iTunes store credits to settle a lawsuit alleging that the iPhone and iPad maker improperly charged kids for playing games on their mobile devices.

The 2-year-old case centers on allegations that Apple didn't create adequate parental controls to prevent children from buying extra features while playing free games on iPhones and iPads in 2010 and 2011. Parents who filed the lawsuit in 2011 said they didn't realize their children were racking up the charges until they received bills or other notifications after the purchases were made. The games that had been downloaded were designed for kids as young as 4 years old, according to the lawsuit.

Apple introduced more stringent controls governing in-game purchases as part of a March 2011 update to the software that runs its mobile devices.

Under an agreement filed in federal court last week, Apple has agreed to award an iTunes credit of $5 to each of the estimated 23 million accountholders who may have been affected. Parents could receive more if they can show their bills exceeded $5. If the charges exceeded $30, cash refunds will be offered.

The lawyers who sued Apple said it's still too early to determine how many people ultimately will qualify for the iTunes credits and cash refunds. As part of the settlement, the attorneys are seeking $1.3 million in fees, which would be paid by Apple.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., declined to comment Tuesday.

A hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled Friday in San Jose, Calf.


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Kaley Cuoco hosting Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' hall of fame ceremony

LOS ANGELES ( - "Big Bang Theory" star Kaley Cuoco is hosting the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' 22nd Annual Hall of Fame ceremony, the academy announced on Tuesday.

This year's inductees include Ron Howard, Al Michaels, Leslie Moonves, Bob Schieffer, Dick Wolf and Philo T. Farnsworth - the long-deceased pioneer of all-electronic television. The six will be honored for their contribution to the medium at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 11.

Will Arnett, John Madden, Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson, Jeff Fager and David Rhodes, Ice-T, and Aaron Sorkin are scheduled to present the honorees.

The actress also hosted the People's Choice Awards in 2012 and 2013.


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Monday, February 25, 2013

We're live at the Nokia MWC press event!

We're live at the Nokia MWC press event!

Are you curious as to what mystery gadgets are hanging out in Stephen Elop's pocket right now? So are we, and thankfully we won't have to wait much longer to find out. The Nokia CEO is set to take the stage at MWC in just a few minutes to show off the latest and greatest mobile wares coming out of Finland, so sit down and join us as we bring you the announcements as they come.

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