Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Study Finds That Organically Grown Tomatoes Are More Nutritious


Home Grown Tomatoes

Organically grown tomatoes are more nutritious in some ways than the conventionally grown variety, a new study from Brazil suggests.

The results show that organically grown tomatoes, while smaller, have higher levels of vitamin C as well as more plant phenols, a class of compounds that act as antioxidants, than do conventionally grown tomatoes. The organic variety might also taste slightly different, as they have higher levels of sugar, although this  new study did not assess taste.

The findings contradict those of research published last September in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, which reviewed more than 200 studies and found no difference between the vitamin contents of organic and conventional foods.

However, another review, published in 2011 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, concluded that organic crops tend to be higher in vitamin C and phenols, and lower in protein, than conventionally grown crops.

Experts say there's still not enough evidence to recommend that people eat organic foods solely for their nutritional content, said Gene Lester, a plant physiologist for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Maryland, who was not involved in the new study. Indeed, researchers have yet to examine whether the nutritional differences between organic and conventionally grown foods actually translate into health benefits, Lester said.

However, consumers may still wish to buy organic produce for environmental reasons: organically grown foods have a lower! carbon footprint and use fewer pesticides.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics said it's important for children to eat a diet that's high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products — regardless of whether these foods are organic or conventionally grown. Organic produce tends to be more expensive than traditional produce, and not everyone may be able to afford it.

The researchers of the new study hypothesize that organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients because these foods are grown under more "stressful" conditions. The plant's response to this stress leads to increased production of certain compounds, including phenols.

Lester agreed, saying that one of the main stressors of organic crops is the type of fertilizer used. Organic crops must be grown with organic fertilizers, such as decayed plant matter, which release nitrogen more slowly than do synthetic fertilizers. This slow release of nitrogen, a nutrient the plant requires, puts the plants under greater stress, Lester said.

Harry Klee, a professor at the University of Florida's Horticultural Sciences Department who was not involved in the study, said the organic tomatoes in this study might have had more nutrients not necessarily because they were grown organically, but because they were smaller.

A tomato plant only has so many nutrients and flavor chemicals to go around, and a plant that has smaller fruit is better able to fill each tomato with nutrients than a plant that bears a larger fruit, Klee said.

The new study, conducted by researchers at the Federal University of Ceara in Brazil, is published today (Feb. 20) in the journal PLOS ONE.

Pass it on: Organic tomatoes have more vitamin C and plant phenols, but it's not clear whether eating them instead of conventional tomatoes would provide more health benefits.

Follow Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner, or MyHealthNewsDaily @MyHealth_MHND. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

SEE ALSO: Why You Should Still Buy Organics Even If They Aren't More Nutritious

SEE ALSO: New Study Shows It's A Myth That Organic Foods Are Healthier

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Korean police contradict Samsung over fatal gas leak, say acid got into the environment


Korean police contradict Samsung over chemical leak, say acid leaked into the environment

Samsung has already been given a small fine for not reporting a fatal gas leak promptly enough, but now it could be in more serious trouble. At the time of the accident, which led to the death of a maintenance contractor, the manufacturer released a statement indicating that the leak of hydrofluoric acid had been "contained." But CCTV footage seen by investigators now suggests that some of the lethal gas reached beyond the confines of the chip plant. A local environmental group claims to have detected high levels of the gas within a couple of kilometers of the building -- an area with tens of thousands of residents. Police still appear to be investigating, but if all this turns out to be true then another $1,000 ticket probably isn't going to fix it.

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Source: Yonhap News


Drugs In Our Waters Are Changing The Behavior Of Fish


european perch

Drugs to treat anxiety in people may alter the behaviour of fish when the chemicals are flushed into rivers, according to scientists. Swedish researchers found that European perch exposed to tiny concentrations of a drug became less sociable, ate more and became more adventurous – all changes in behaviour that could have unexpected ecological impacts on fish populations.

When scientists at Umeå University in Sweden screened rivers for pharmaceuticals they found that a drug for treating anxiety, called oxazepam, was accumulating in fish. Many drugs and other synthetic chemicals used by humans in everything from pesticides to cosmetics can pass through waste water treatment and end up in wildlife, potentially accumulating to toxic levels.

But until now scientists had never studied the behavioural impacts of small quantities of contaminants. Tomas Brodin led a team that mimicked in the lab the concentrations of oxazepam found in the wild – around a microgram per kilogram of fish body weight – and watched for changes in how bold, sociable and active the fish were.

"Normally, perch are shy and hunt in schools," said Brodin. "This is a known strategy for survival and growth. But those who swim in oxazepam became considerably bolder."

The results are published this week in Science and were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

Jonatan Klaminder, an ecologist at Umeå University and an author of the paper, said the effect of the drug on fish was similar to its effect on people. "What the drug does is remove some of the fear that the very small fish experience," he said. "[They] become less interested in staying close with others – staying close to others is a well-known defence system to avoid predators. They become less afraid of exploring new areas, so they just go out to search for food and become more effective in finding and consuming food."

This change in behaviour could have evolutionary consequences. Adventurous or antisocial fish are more likely to be eaten by larger fishes but are also the ones that will explore new areas and, over time, alter the genetic diversity of future populations.

The solution, according to the researchers, is not to stop medicating people who need drugs such as oxazepam but to improve sewage treatment plants to capture the drugs and reduce their contamination of water systems in the wild.

The research also has implications for the way ecologists monitor pollutants in the environment, said Klaminder. "We're still deeply rooted in what a pollutant is and it goes back to the 1970s and 1980s where we had heavy rain, acid rain, organic pollutants that definitely cause harm and physiological effects. When it comes to drugs, there is a new area of contamination research that doesn't really fit with this old conceptual view." Focusing on the potential negative physiological impacts of an environmental contaminant could miss the subtle behavioural changes that may also occur.

He added: "Hopefully it will make researchers rethink what they are looking for."

This article originally appeared on

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

American Farmland Prices Are Going Bonkers


Despite the severe drought still gripping the U.S., farmland values continued to rise across most crop-growing regions in the third quarter.  This is according to bankers surveyed in the latest report from the Kansas City Fed.

Farm income and land values were boosted by high crop prices and high crop insurance payments. In North and South Dakota, land lease revenue increased thanks to the region's energy deposits.

Bankers in the Corn Belt and Central Plains reported strong annual increases.  Meanwhile in Texas, where growing conditions were poor farmland values increased a modest 2.6 percent year-over-year.

For 2013, they continue to expect farmland values to stay elevated.

Here's a look at how non-irrigated farmland values increased in the third quarter:

Map non irrigated farmland value

SEE ALSO: SHILLER: Farmland Lacks One Telltale Sign That Would Make It A Bubble

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Controlled Evolution In A Test Tube Produces Artificial Enzymes


Researchers at the University of Minnesota have just created an artificial enzyme in a test tube by following the rules of natural selection.

This artificial enzyme likely resembles what enzymes looked like billions of years ago, when life began evolving.

Enzymes created in laboratories typically follow principles of rational enzyme design, in which researchers develop a preconceived idea of what an enzyme should be, model it on a computer, and then influence its development to produce the molecule that they want.

By contrast, this new enzyme, developed by Burckhard Seelig's lab at UM's College of Biological Sciences, was developed in the same way enzymes evolve in nature. A large quantity of candidate proteins were placed together in culture and screened with every successive generation for their ability to perform a desired function (in this case, joining two pieces of RNA together). Unlike rational enzyme design, this approach isn't limited by what the researchers know about enzyme structure. All the researchers really need to know is what they want from the enzyme. Evolution finds the best way to get there.

Enzymes are manipulated for use in all kinds of things, from manufacturing processes to fuel refinement to the development of new food products. Industry uses both natural and artificial enzymes for specific purposes, as they catalyze the chemical reactions that generate desired processes and products. Now, the ability to generate enzymes by evolutionary means could lead to whole new applications for tailored enzymes that aren't achievable with rational enzyme design.



9 Amazing Images That Turn Science Into Art


Including a map of brain cancer, a closeup of a sea urchin's tooth, and more from the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge

Click to launch the photo gallery

The words "brain cancer" are pretty evocative on their own, connoting fear, surgery, and possible death. But actually seeing a cancerous tumor, watching how its tentacles infiltrate white matter, is another thing entirely. Such deeper understanding is the goal of the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the journal Science and the National Science Foundation.

The 2012 winners were announced yesterday, and they include a map of brain cancer; a poster representation of how owls can turn their heads 270 degrees; a video of the electromechanical science of the heart; and much more. They are beautiful and captivating, but have a more profound meaning, said Monica M. Bradford, executive editor of Science: "They also draw you into the complex field of science in a simple and understandable way." We agree. Click through to the gallery for the winners.


Scientists Have Created Crystals That Are Almost Alive


Scientists Have Created Crystals That Are Almost Alive Man-made life is a thing of fiction, relegated to things like Frankenstein. But scientists are coming close to something almost like it. New light-affected crystals developed by scientists at New York University are very close to being alive, so close it makes you question what "being alive" really means.

The crystals are microscopic cubes of hematite that can conduct electricity under certain wavelengths of blue light. As a result, when they're in a hydrogen peroxide soup, the right light can make them swim around, merging into larger crystals, breaking apart, and doing it all again. And then, when the light goes out, they stop.

Paul Chaikin, one of the authors of the paper recently published in Science, notes that this gives the little things metabolism and mobility, two of the criteria required to be considered "alive." They just happen to lack the ability to reproduce, for now. Another of the authors, Jérémie Palacci, put it this way to Wired:

[We] show that with a simple, synthetic active system, we can reproduce some features of living systems. I do not think this makes our systems alive, but it stresses the fact that the limit between the two is somewhat arbitrary.

There's nothing really to suggest that these crystals might suddenly learn to replicate, but they do provide something of a window back in time, when the building blocks of life may have been quite similar to this, before they began to multiply and become actual life. In the meantime, Chaikin and Palacci are working on a different particle that has metabolism and can replicate, but not move. If these two projects manage to learn from each other, we could be in for something really wild. [Wired via PopSci]