Scientific discoveries this week: 4/29/13

Orlando, Florida
Researchers from the University of Central Florida demonstrated that species can evolve over generations regardless of whether they have to compete for food, habitat, or other factors. They used a computer model to mimic how organisms evolve and their results indicated that competition is not necessary for evolution to take place. According to Kenneth Stanley, a professor with the research team, evolvable organisms separate themselves from other less evolvable organisms over time simply by becoming more diverse. Their results do not correspond with commonly held beliefs and indicate that the traditional selective and adaptive explanations for increasing evolvability deserve more scrutiny.

Lleida, Spain
According to a variety of case studies, scientists determined that the European Union (EU) is undermining its competitiveness in agriculture due to its agricultural policy of not not using genetically engineered crops (GMOs). According to the researchers from the University of Lleida-Agrotecnico Center in Spain, the EU agricultural policy is inconsistent and obstructs what it sets to achieve. Studies show that the due to the effective ban on GMOs in Europe on the cultivations of genetically modified crops such as cotton, maize, and soybean, there is insufficient resources and capacity to produce the crops by conventional means in Europe and the same products are imported from other nations. Furthermore, the EU banned farmers from using certain pesticides and restricted some other nonchemical methods of pest control while still allowing the importation of products produced using those techniques. In their paper published in Trends in Plant Science, the scientists said, “EU farmers are denied freedom of choice — in essence, they are prevented from competing because EU policies actively discriminate against those wishing to cultivate genetically engineered crops, yet exactly the same crops are approved for import.”

Lund, Sweden
According to a study at Lund University in Sweden, drinking coffee could decrease the risk of breast cancer recurrence in patients taking the drug Tamoxifen. The team followed over 600 breast cancer patients from Sweden for an average of five years with about 300 of them taking Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen a common hormone therapy after breast cancer surgery, reduces the risk of new tumours by blocking oestrogen receptors. According to the study, patients who took the pill along with two or more cups of coffee per day, reported less that half the rate of cancer recurrence when compared to patients who took Tamoxifen without drinking coffee. The researchers do not know how exactly coffee interacts with the drug but one theory is that coffee activates Tamoxifen and makes it more efficient. In the past, the researchers linked coffee consumption to a decreased risk of developing certain types of breast cancer and demonstrated that caffeine hampers the growth of cancer cells.

Boulder, Colorado
A new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder indicate that forced exercise can reduce anxiety and depression just like voluntary exercise. Past studies demonstrated that people who exercise generally have less stress related disorders and the perception of control over one’s body when they exercise can benefit that person’s mental health. But according to this new study even a person who is forced to exercise, thus eliminating the perception of control, still reaps the benefits of reduced anxiety and depression. The study involved a lab experiment using rats. During a six week period some rats remained sedentary while others exercised by running on a wheel. The rats that exercised were divided into two groups that ran a equal amount of time but one group ran whenever it chose to, while the other group ran on mechanized wheels that rotated according to a predetermined schedule. After the six weeks the rats were exposed to a laboratory stressor and then their anxiety levels were tested the next day. The anxiety or stress was quantified by measuring how long the rats froze, when they were put in an environment they had been conditioned to fear. The longer they froze the greater the residual anxiety from being stressed the previous day. Another group of rats was also tested as a control group without being stressed the day before. The study demonstrated that no matter whether the rats were forced to run or chose to run they were protected against stress and anxiety. The sedentary rats on the other hand froze for much longer periods of time than any of the active rats. The implications for humans dictate that those that perceive exercise as being forced such as some athletes or patients following a doctor’s exercise prescription are still going to get the benefits in terms of reducing their anxiety and depression.

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