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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hubble Discovers Planet 25 Light Years Away

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting another star. The images show the planet, named Fomalhaut b, as a tiny point source of light orbiting the nearby, bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis. An immense debris disk a

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Deep-Sea Expedition Sets Sail, 20,000+ Students Along for Ride

Newswise — Setting sail on the Pacific, a University of Delaware-led research team has embarked on an extreme adventure that will find several of its members plunging deep into the sea to study hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

The team will be conducting research in environments that include scalding heat, high pressure, toxic chemicals and total darkness, as part of the National Science Foundation-funded “Extreme 2008: A Deep-Sea Adventure.”

The scientists are being joined by students from around the world on dry land who have signed up for an exciting virtual field trip. More than 20,000 students from 350 schools in the United States, Aruba, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain and New Zealand are participating.

The expedition, led by Craig Cary, professor of marine biosciences in the University of Delaware’s College of Marine and Earth Studies, left Monday, Nov. 10, aboard the research ship Atlantis from a port in Manzanillo, Mexico, with an expected return date of Dec. 1. For those interested in following the scientists, they will blog regularly about the voyage at the Extreme 2008 Web site [].

Team members – researchers and graduate students – are from the University of Delaware, the University of Colorado, University of North Carolina, University of Southern California, J. Craig Venter Institute, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the University of Waikato, New Zealand.

The team is heading to destinations at two hydrothermal hot spots: Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California and a group of vents in the eastern Pacific Ocean about nine degrees north of the equator.

Once above the vents, the researchers will take the submersible Alvin down from one to nearly two miles below the surface. Built to withstand crushing pressures and to pierce the utter blackness of the deep, Alvin will let the scientists observe life around the steaming vents and collect samples for analysis. Both Atlantis and Alvin are owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The scientists' focus will be marine viruses and other tiny life called protists. These organisms prey on bacteria, the primary food for vent dwellers ranging from ghost-white vent crabs to bizarre-looking tubeworms.

“For many years, the vents have been explored with little to no attention to viruses and protists,” Cary says. “Yet because these organisms eat bacteria, they have the most dramatic effect on the bacterial communities that support the vent system. Our research programs are among the first to focus on these remarkable scavengers.”

Eric Wommack, an associate professor with joint appointments in both the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Marine and Earth Studies, will join Cary in leading the UD contingent.

Wommack, who is based at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, is an expert on marine viruses and will be deploying specialized equipment to capture them for analysis in the shipboard lab.

Wommack says hydrothermal vents, although characterized by caustic chemistry, hot temperatures and high pressure, are oases of life in the deep sea. The vents provide an ecosystem for ancient and unusual microbes that are capable of extracting energy from volcanic rather than solar energy, and are home to viruses.

“As a group, viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth and contain its largest reservoir of unknown genes,” Wommack says. “We know that bacteria at the deep-sea hydrothermal vents are intimately associated with relatively abundant populations of viruses. Our goal is to explore the wilderness of viral genes existing at the vents.”

David Caron, professor of biological sciences in the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California, will be studying protozoa, a class of protists that feed on other organisms and that may form a crucial bridge between bacteria and animal life.

If Caron is correct, the samples from the deep will show that protozoa feed on bacteria or on the products of bacterial activity and are in turn eaten by larger life forms. The most surprising thing about the theory may be the lack of evidence for it. While other studies have found a protozoan-animal link in surface waters, the analogous middle step in the deep ocean has been overlooked.

“Protozoa are everywhere and they’re in virtually every environment. They play this intermediate food web role in a number of these environments, and there’s no reason to believe that they aren’t doing the same thing in the vents. It simply hasn’t been looked at to any degree,” Caron said.

As the scientists work at sea, they will be connected to students via an interactive Web site, where blogs, dive logs, video clips, photos and interviews will be posted daily. Students also will be able to write to the scientists, design experiments and participate in a virtual science fair.

A capstone experience for selected schools will be a “Phone Call to the Deep,” linking classrooms with researchers working live in the submersible Alvin on the seafloor.

The University of Delaware and the National Science Foundation are sponsoring the expedition. Additional support is being provided by Olympus and by MO BIO Laboratories.

The program, coordinated by the Office of Communications & Marketing, is the sixth in UD's popular “Extreme” series, which has won state and national awards for public education.

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Thanksgiving on a Budget: Seven Easy Ways to Save Money and Calories

Newswise — Rising costs at the grocery story will be especially painful for many families this Thanksgiving as they get ready for the biggest meal of the year.

“Food is an important part of holidays, and this is especially true for Thanksgiving,” said Jennifer Ebelhar McDaniel, a registered dietician and assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University.

“There’s a lot of pressure to serve a big, traditional Thanksgiving meal, but for many people that’s just not financially feasible this year.”

Fortunately, McDaniel says there are seven easy ways to slice your grocery bill without cutting the fun out of the holiday

1. Compose your shopping list one week in advance. This gives you time to search for sales, use coupons, etc. In addition, shopping off a list saves you extra trips to the grocery store (wasted gas) and unnecessary purchases.

2. Don't try to serve it all. You don't need to serve everybody's favorite dish. Choose one protein (usually a turkey), one starch (sweet potato dish), one vegetable and one dessert.

3. Know serving sizes. Make sure the recipes you create are modified for the correct number of people invited.

Read tips 4-7 after the jump!

4. Use frozen vegetables where you can. If you are preparing a recipe like broccoli and cheese casserole, choose frozen vegetables instead of fresh. Frozen vegetables are usually cheaper and offer the same nutrient quality.

5. Buy the whole bird. Usually it is cheaper to purchase the whole turkey rather than buy the pieces separately. Plus, leftover turkey tastes great in a turkey casserole, turkey burritos, turkey and cranberry sandwich, and you can use the bones for soups.

6. Ask for help. Offer to make one or two things and delegate the rest. To add a little fun into your potluck, ask your guests to bring copies of their recipe to share.

7. Skip the paper products. While paper plates and plastic utensils are easier than washing dishes, they are expensive and bad for the environment.

At the risk of sounding like the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving, McDaniel says there are several benefits to cutting back this year, even if it’s not financially necessary. First, in addition to saving money, you’ll also save calories.

“A typical Thanksgiving feast may include as many as 10 options. Even if you take just a little of each, the calories can really add up,” she said. “By limiting the number of dishes offered, your family will be less likely to overeat.”

But perhaps the biggest benefit of simplifying your Thanksgiving meal, McDaniel says, is that it will allow you to focus on your family and all you have to be thankful for.

“The holidays weren’t meant to be stressful. By simplifying your meal, you’ll have more time to relax and enjoy the time with your family,” she said.

Long a leader in educating health professionals, Saint Louis University began its nursing program in 1928 and offered its first degree in an allied health profession in 1929. Today the Doisy College of Health Sciences offers degrees in nursing, physical therapy, clinical laboratory science, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics and information management, medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, occupational science and occupational therapy, and physician assistant education. The college's unique curriculum prepares students to work with health professionals from all disciplines to ensure the best possible patient care.

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Depression Can Hamper Glucose Control in People With Diabetes

Newswise — Depression can cause diabetes patients to suffer from higher glucose levels over time compared to those who are not depressed, finds a study of older veterans with the disease.

“Our study shows that depression is a major and important comorbidity in people with type 2 diabetes,” said study co-author Leonard Egede, M.D., from the Center for Health Disparities Research at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Through a combination of diet, exercise and medication, people with type 2 diabetes work to keep their blood glucose levels within a certain range. Past research has shown that those who are also depressed have a tougher time doing so. About 30 percent of adults with diabetes have depression and the combination is linked to poor glucose control, higher complication rates, decreased quality of life and increased risk of death.

The current study appears in the November/December issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

Egede and his colleagues analyzed data from 11,525 veterans (98 percent men) with type 2 diabetes who received medical care at a Veterans Administration facility in the Southeast. The participants’ average age was 66 years and 48 percent were white, 27 percent were African-American and 25 percent were of other races.

Researchers evaluated each participant at three-month intervals from 1997 to 2006, with 36 intervals. At each 3-month interval, clinicians checked their HbA1c level, a blood test that measures long-term glucose control. Experts recommend a target level of less than 7 percent.

Six percent of the participants had depression, researchers determined.

They found that over the four-year period, the HbA1c values in the veterans who were depressed averaged 0.13 percent higher than the veterans who were not depressed. Egede said the difference is quite significant — enough to raise people with diabetes above the desirable range for glucose control, putting them at higher risk.

“The fact that the difference persisted over time and that the depressed group had higher mean HbA1c at all 36 time points was surprising,” Egede said.

The researchers also found that the change in HbA1c among the depressed participants did not differ based on race or age.

Evette Joy Ludman, Ph.D., senior research associate at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, said that although the link between depression and diabetes complications might seem daunting, it is possible for adults to follow treatment orders for their depression while also managing their diabetes.

“I think it is a reasonable expectation that health care teams can help patients who have both depression and diabetes manage both conditions,” she said. “I don’t think patients see themselves as a collection of different illnesses and if we take a more proactive, integrated approach to caring for them, it is likely they can benefit. Research currently in the field is addressing that exact question.”

General Hospital Psychiatry is a peer-reviewed research journal published bimonthly by Elsevier Science. For information about the journal, contact Wayne Katon, M.D., at (206) 543-7177.

Richardson LK, et al. Longitudinal effects of depression on glycemic control in veterans with type 2 diabetes. General Hosp Psychiatry, 30(6), 2008.

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