Research and innovations

SKUAST-K scientist discovers new gene target and medicine for prostate cancer treatment.

ZT News 

Srinagar, Feb 19: Dr. Khalid Zaffar Masoodi, a scientist at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences (SKUAST), Kashmir, has identified a new gene, DHX15, that drives the spread and growth of cancerous cells. 

The study was done in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh, USA and has been published in February 2018 issue of Nature Oncogene, a top rated Journal from Nature publishing group. 

This major study is the first to reveal how DHX15 over-expression is associated with prostate cancer recurrence and provides a potential new molecular target for the treatment of advanced Prostate cancer.

"We were astonished to find that DHX15 had a role in cancer’s spread round the body, but to discover how it also appears to drive the growth of prostate cancer cells is a real game changer,” says Dr. Masoodi, Assistant professor and Team Leader at the Transcriptomics Laboratory, Division of Plant Biotechnology.

Prof. Nazeer Ahmed Vice Chancellor of SKUAST-K in his comments said that this study confirms DHX15 as an exciting new target for prostate cancer treatment – and one with great potential for the future. Dr. Ahmed has congratulated the team led by Dr. Masoodi for taking this research to new paradigms by attracting funding of 2 crore from Govt. of India for identifying new drugs from medicinal plants against prostate cancer and creating a fluorescence imaging facility at SKUAST-Kashmir.

With an increase in incidence on endocrine related cancers in the farming communities especially the paddy and apple growing population in Kashmir Valley, Dr. Ahmed emphasized that the research will help the farming community of Kashmir in circumventing and timely controlling the menace of Cancer in the valley. For the first time SKUAST-K has has attracted funding for Drug discovery against cancer. This is a bold step taken by the SKUAST-K and will open new vistas for research in agriculture and allied fields.

Dr. Masoodi recently discovered three new prototype drugs against Prostate cancer that are highlighted in recent issues of Molecular Cancer Therapeuitcs and Endocrinology, high impact factor journals from the league. 

The first of a new generation of these drugs which can fight, and possibly cure, prostate cancer have been successfully tested in mice xenograft models.

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Changing weather patterns throwing ecosystems out of whack

ZT Research Team

Uploaded:  Feb 9, 2018 

Source: University of South Florida (USF Health)

In a study published in Nature Climate Change, a team of researchers from the University of South Florida in Tampa found that animal species are shifting the timing of their seasonal activities, also known as phenology, at different rates in response to changing seasonal temperatures and precipitation patterns.

"As species' lifecycles grow out of alignment, it can affect the functioning of ecosystems with potential impacts on human food supplies and diseases," said lead author Jeremy Cohen, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida Department of Integrative Biology. 

"We rely on honeybees to pollinate seasonal crops and migratory birds to return in the spring to eat insects that are crop pests and vectors of human diseases. If the timing of these and other seasonal events are off, ecosystems can malfunction with potentially adverse effects on humans."

Dr. Cohen and his team found that cold-blooded species and those with small body sizes are breeding or aggregating earlier than warm-blooded or large-bodied species in spring. They come to this conclusion after reviewing thousands of records of phenological shifts dating back to the 1950s.

"Our research elucidates the drivers of phenological responses and the traits of organisms that influence their ability to track changing climates," said co-author Jason Rohr, PhD, professor at the University of South Florida. "We expect these findings to improve our ability to forecast the locations, systems and species that might be at the greatest risk from climate change and ideally mitigate any adverse effects that these changes might have on the services that ecosystems provide to humans."

Scientists are breeding super-nutritious crops to help solve global hunger

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

An incredible 155m children around the world are chronically undernourished, despite dramatic improvements in recent decades. In view of this, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include Zero Hunger. But what do we understand by the word hunger?

It may refer to lack of food or widespread food shortages caused by war, drought, crop failure or government policies. But as researchers, we are particularly interested in a different kind of hunger – one that is less visible but equally devastating.

Micronutrient deficiencies, also known as hidden hunger, occurs when there is a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in a person’s diet. This condition affects more than two billion people globally, and can contribute to stunted growth, poor cognitive development, increased risk of infections, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The wider impacts of micronutrient deficiencies socially and economically are also well established.

Supplementation and food fortification have long been used around the world to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. Both strategies boast high cost/benefit ratios. But as they require repeated investment, their sustainability is limited. 

Supplements may be used to treat multiple micronutrient deficiencies, but this is a resource-intensive approach and does not address the cause of the problem – dietary inadequacy.

Food fortification, on the other hand, improves the nutritional quality of food itself. Here, micronutrients are added to commonly consumed foods at the processing stage. This strategy can be implemented at population level, and does not require individuals to change their eating behaviours.

In the UK, for example, flour has been fortified with calcium since World War II, when a reduced supply of dairy products was anticipated. Today, many of our foods are fortified, including bread, cereal products and fat spreads.

In developing countries, food fortification has gained momentum in recent years through the work of organisations like the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Large scale food fortification programmes have enhanced the micronutrient content of a range of staple foods in over 30 countries. For example, the GAIN/UNICEF Universal Salt Iodization Partnership has protected 466m people in 14 countries against the debilitating effects of iodine deficiency – such as mental impairment and goitre, a swelling in the neck resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland.

But one major disadvantage of food fortification is that some of the poorest families may not have access to commercially processed foods. And it is these remote rural communities – that grow and process food locally – that are often the most affected by hidden hunger.

Farming the Sun: How the Agriculture Industry Is Saving with Solar

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Across the agriculture industry, doing more with less has become a mantra. The pressure to increase yields from an ever decreasing availability of tillable land makes farming today particularly challenging, and shows no signs of reversing as population density increases worldwide.

In light of this, growers, producers, and distributors are looking for new ways to optimize efficiency, particularly with regard to energy use – one of the top expenses for farmers and ag operators. One of the ways they’re doing this is by putting their land to work in a new way.

A New Kind of Harvest

Solar installations and solar farms are becoming a frequent sight in California’s Central Valley, where nearly 40 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and other table foods are grown.1 For Golden Empire Shelling (GES) in Buttonwillow, California, adding solar to its almond shelling facilities was a simple business decision.

“I’d looked at solar three or four times over the past 10 years,” GES General Manager John Wynn recalls, “and each time it became more affordable. Now, as an industry we are really at a point where solar makes complete financial sense.”

When Wynn got his start in the almond business nearly 20 years ago, the industry was producing a fraction of the crop it does today. Founded in 2007, GES is a grower-owned, state-of-the-art facility, processing up to 70 million meat pounds of almonds per year. When California’s drought caused yields to decline, Wynn sought an equally state-of-the-art solution that could help cut costs: solar.

While GES is a dry-processing operation, the 45,000-square-foot facility runs 24/7 during the four-month harvest, and maintaining a dust-free operation requires giant Hoover-style vacuums during the process season. With the company’s cost of power increasing an average of 5 percent a year, Wynn recognized the need to drastically reduce or eliminate the company’s electric bill.

That’s when Wynn turned to Jeff Pereira, owner of SunPower by Sun Solar, for a solution. Pereira and his team recommended a ground-mounted system utilizing four acres of land, with a total of 2,400 high-performance solar panels mounted on trackers that follow the sun with precision from daybreak to sundown.

The SunPower® HelixTM system produces more energy than conventional solar systems because of the enhanced performance efficiency of SunPower panels – a key metric to evaluate when considering solar, according to Pereira. Because of their higher performance, GES was able to use less land than projected for the system, an important consideration.

“Land and water come at a premium in our valley, so it was imperative that we get the most value out of our over 4-acre solar installation,” said Wynn. “With the cost-competitive solar generated by our SunPower Helix system, Golden Empire Shelling will be able to dramatically reduce electricity costs and our carbon footprint for at least the next 20 years.”

Basic mechanisms for root growth and cell replenishment

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Source: Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics

Understanding the functioning of root biology is crucial to know how plants suffer or adapt to adverse environmental conditions like droughts. Two recent studies describe these kinds of mechanisms: one of them, published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology, describes the process through which cells stop growing due cell differentiation; the second one, published in Journal of Cell Science, describes plants' cell replenishment after being damaged.

The first study results from the researches carried out by the team of biologist Ana Caño Delgado, CSIC researcher in the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), and physicist Marta Ibañes, from the Department of Condensed Matter Physics and the Institute of Complex Systems of the University of Barcelona (UBICS). The second study was conducted by the same team in CRAG.

How do cells know when to stop growing?

The Arabidopsis thaliana plant root, used in these studies, is a quite simple organ, in which cells with different functions are separated. Therefore, stem cells are on the tip, surrounded by daughter cells which are divided to produce root's tissues. Daughter cells grow in length and differ from the others to acquire typical functions that allow the root to transport water and nutrients. In order for the root to grow and adapt to a new changing environment, this division, elongation and cell differentiation has to be perfectly coordinated.

Ibañes' and Caño Delgado's teams used three hypotheses to explain how cells know when to stop growing: a certain period of time passed since they got divided, they detect their root's position, or cells are able to detect their size. To clarify which one of these hypotheses was the right one, researcher Irina Pavelescu, first author of the study, created three analytical and computational root growth models. These models were tested with real measures of cell length in Arabidopsis roots, carried out with confocal microscopy in CRAG. 

"The main conclusion of the study is that root cells know they reached the proper size and then they stop growing and end the differentiation. Therefore, they stop growing due their size," says Marta Ibañes (UB, UBICS).

Thanks to the created mathematical models, researchers could also explain the effect of the steroid plant hormones -brassinosteroids- in the root growth. In this case, they measured cells from Arabidopsis plants that, due a lack of receptor for steroid hormones, have a tiny root and stem. The study proved roots grew when, through molecular biology techniques with cell resolution, the brassinosteroid receptor was restored only in cells that divide, which points out that the effect of the hormone stays in the cell during its growth phase.

Plant steroids are essential for cell regeneration

Simultaneously, the research team in CRAG led by Ana Caño Delgado discovered more details on the root growth and its post-damaged cell repair capacity, which have been published in the Journal of Cell Science. In particular, the published study states that, when root stem cells die due a genomic stress, a signal of steroid hormones is sent to reservoir stem cells so that these divide and replace the damaged ones. Thus, root growth is maintained, and so is the plant's life.

"Plant steroids, unlike most of plant hormones, are not transported through long distances. However, our study proves that there is a transportation of these hormones at a short distance, and this is important for cell communication during cell renovation," says Fidel Lozano Elena, pre-doctoral student in CRAG and first author of the study. "This more complex signalling system between cell groups make plants to be more resilient," adds Ainoa Planas Riverola, also first author and PhD student in the group.

"If we can modulate these processes in the root, we can make roots stronger and better fixed, and therefore more resistant to the challenges of climate change," says Ana Caño Delgado. We cannot forget that droughts are now the most severe problem in agriculture. In Spain, there have been several years with less rain than normal, and according to a recent report by Unión de Pequeños Agricultores y Ganaderos (union of small farmers and ranchers, UPA), in 2017, droughts caused losses of more than 3,600 million euros in the agricultural sector in Spain, mostly due a big loss of productivity in crops. This situation occurs in all continents, putting at risk the capacity to feed the growing population. 

"Therefore, it is necessary to get crops that, with less water, can produce safe and quality food in sufficient quantities," concludes Caño Delgado.

Wetlands provide landscape-scale reduction in nitrate pollution

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Source: University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering

A study by University of Minnesota researchers provides new insights to demonstrate that multiple wetlands or 'wetland complexes' within a watershed are extremely effective at reducing harmful nitrate in rivers and streams. These wetlands can be up to five times more efficient per unit area at reducing nitrate than the best land-based nitrogen mitigation strategies.

The research was published today in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience. The research was led by researchers from the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and the University's College of Biological Sciences.

In agricultural regions like the United States Midwest, excess nitrate derived from crop fertilizer makes its way to rivers and streams through subsurface drainage systems and agricultural ditches. Once in streams and rivers, high nitrate concentrations can be harmful to ecosystems and human health. This includes impacts such as drinking water contamination and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. Although the topic has been the focus of extensive research, little traction has been made toward effective strategies for nitrate reduction at the landscape scale.

In this study, researchers used water samples collected over a four-year period from more than 200 waterways within the intensively managed, 17,000-square-mile Minnesota River basin, coupled with geo-spatial information about land use in the watershed. They were able to isolate the effect of wetlands on stream and river nitrate concentrations within large watersheds.

Significant research findings include:

  • When stream flows are high, wetlands are five times more efficient per unit area at reducing nitrate than the best land-based conservation practices. Other common conservation practices are effective at lower flow conditions but overwhelmed with higher stream flows.
  • The arrangement of wetlands within a watershed is a key predictor of the magnitude of nitrate reduction. If wetlands intercept 100 percent of the drainage area, they are three times more effective at nitrate removal compared to interception of 50 percent of the drainage area.
  • Nitrate reduction due to ephemeral (temporary) wetlands, such as riparian floodplains and more geographically isolated wetlands (wetlands not connected to the river network by surface water), was measurable and was highest during high stream flows, when such features are hydrologically connected to surface water.

This last finding is of particular interest to the current policy debate over management and regulations that influence water quality in agricultural regions. While there is strong scientific consensus that small or temporary water bodies such as ephemeral wetlands play essential roles for improving water quality downstream, their legal status for protection under the Clean Water Act is uncertain. Court rulings expected in 2018 could have a large impact on how, and if, these water bodies are protected in years to come.

"We value what we can measure, so this is an important step forward in recognizing that as we lose wetlands, we also lose the significant benefits they provide in terms of pollution control," said Amy Hansen, research associate at the University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and one of the lead authors of the study.

A genetic trigger adds branches to plants, could boost crop yields

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Source: American Chemical Society

When it comes to agriculture from branched plants, such as apple trees, the more branches that bear fruit, the better. But in the real world, there's a limit to the number of branches that plants make -- a gene tends to put the brakes on this splitting process called shoot branching. Today in ACS Central Science, researchers reveal a chemical that can reverse this limitation, possibly leading to improved crop production.

Previous studies of a plant hormone that inhibits shoot branching resulted in the identification of a regulator gene called D14. Shinya Hagihara, Yuichiro Tsuchiya and colleagues reasoned that if they could inhibit this regulator, they could do the opposite and increase branching. Tsuchiya and Hagihara's teams developed a screen in which they could monitor the shoot branching activity based on whether a reporter chemical called Yoshimulactone Green (YLG) glowed green.

By screening a library of 800 compounds, the researchers found that 18 of them inhibited D14 by 70 percent or more. Of these, one called DL1 was particularly active and specific. This inhibitor could increase shoot branching in both a type of flower and in rice. In preparation for DL1's use as a potential commercial agrochemical, the team is now testing how long the chemicals last in the soil and are investigating whether it is toxic to humans.

progress achieved in bio-tech parks' project: s&T Dept.

As the departments awaits release of funds for major tendering work from Govt. of India, work on Project K-5000 is afoot.

Srinagar: Jan 2: In the year 2012 two Industrial Biotechnology Parks (IBTP) were taken up by the State Govt. with the Central Government, which were agreed verbally by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), Government of India (GoI) to be established one each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions.

In pursuance to the verbal commitment, two DPR’s for two IBTPs were submitted for consideration with a total project cost of Rs 52.21 crores (IBTP-Jammu Rs.30.66 Crores and IBTP-Kashmir Rs.21.55 Crores).

However, no formal approval was issued by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.

After the present political dispensation came to power, the State Cabinet allotted 10 acres of land in Industrial Estate Ghati Kathua for establishment of IBTP Jammu In the ending year 2015. The same allotted land was taken in the possession in the beginning of the Year 2016 by Science & Technology Department.

In November 2016 J&K Industrial Biotechnology Parks Society (J&K IBTPS), a society of Government of J&K, was registered for the implementation and management of these two IBTPS.

In the year 2017, the State Cabinet allotted State Land measuring 10 acres at Braripora, Handwara for the Establishment of IBTP Kashmir.

Subsequently, after the land allotment, the Ministry of S&T Govt. of India was requested by the State Government for considering revised Detailed Project Reports (DPR’s). The S&T Ministry, GoI, conceded the State Governments request and revised DPR was submitted to the Govt. of India with a total project cost of Rs.110.00 Crores (IBTP-Kashmir 55.00 crores and IBTP-Jammu Rs 55.00 crores).

The proposal was considered with a slightest change in its project cost by Ministry of S&T, Govt. of India and subsequently administrative approval for the two Biotech Parks was given to the State in 2017.

In January 2017, the First Governing Body Meeting of J&K Industrial

Biotechnology Parks Society (J&KIBTPS) was conducted in which major decisions for implementation of the IBTPs Projects were taken.

In January 2017, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also signed with CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu/Kashmir by S&T Department, Govt. of J&K for taking them knowledge partners for establishment of two IBTPs Projects in record time of two years.

Meanwhile the Biotechnology Projects Scheme of Govt. of India has

transited from 12th Five Year Plan to 14th Finance Commission and the scheme has gone to the Financial Concurrence to PMO Office, Govt. of India due which the release of the Central funds got delayed. However, Govt. of India has communicated that before the closing this Financial Year 2017-18, funds shall be released to the State Government for two Biotech projects.

However, for early completion of these projects the process has been started and two PMC’s have been engaged for BTP Projects, one for Architectural Design of the project and another for Technical part of the project. The S&T department is waiting for the release of the funds from Government of India for major tendering of the work on two Biotech Parks.

In order to carry forward this Biotech-Mission, the Science and Technology Department has agreed to initiate other parts of the Biotech projects, till the Infrastructure of the two Industrial Biotechnology will come-up. The Project K-5000 was launched in June 2017 in its first trial in District Kupwara which is part of the Biotech Parks Project. 

Under this, Demonstration Farms of Medicinal and Aromatic plants shall be established in three years over 5000 kanals of State/Community Owned/Khaschari land of the District Kupwara so that these demonstration farms will act as motivators and will provide technical knowhow and planting material to the farmers. These demonstration farms will result in a culture of cultivation of cash crops by farmers on their proprietary land and they shift over from their habitual farming to economically remunerative cash crops farming.

On trial basis, the project K-5000 was launched in District Kupwara on 150 Kanals which has shown satisfactory results and the project is going in a positive direction. The K-5000 projects shall be started at other places of

the State to reach its benefits to the farming community for improving their economic returns from their land holdings.

In Nov-Dec 2017-18, two lakh lavender plants were transplanted in District Kupwara under this project K-5000. Therefore, total 400 Kanals of land has been brought under the cultivation in District Kupwara till date. 

In the Year 2018-19 the S&T Department has target to bring 2500 kanals of Community/Khaschari land under the cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic plants in District Kupwara alone.

This is the statement Ziraat Times has received from the Science and Technology Department, Govt of J&K, in response to its earlier report on the status of the two Bio-technology Parks in Jammu & Kashmir. This has been re-produced without any editing.

Climate smart farming in action

Climate change is a big challenge to agriculture globally. But research and innovation are helping to make agriculture climate resilient. Ziraat Times will regularly feature farmers and scientists from across J&K who make climate-smart technologies and techniques work. Watch out this section for videos.