University of Minnesota Alumni Association



Includes "Climate Change and the World's Food," "Childhood Cancer and IVF," and "Help for the Walleye."

Photo Credit: Bessi from Pixabay

Climate Change and the World’s Food

From shrinking ice sheets and rising sea levels to an increase in severe weather, the impact of climate change on the earth is well documented. Now, a study led by the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Copenhagen, shows that climate change is also affecting the world’s food production.

Using weather and reported crop data, researchers found that climate change causes significant variations in the yields of the globe’s top 10 crops—barley, cassava, maize, oil palm, rapeseed, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane, and wheat. That’s particularly important considering the fact that these staples supply 83 percent of all calories from crops.

How these variations play out ultimately depends on location. Food production has been negatively impacted in Europe, Southern Africa, and Asia, while results have been mixed in Asia and Northern and Central America—crop yields have actually been up in some parts of the Upper Midwest. Researchers also saw a positive impact on food production in Latin America. 

“This is a very complex system, so a careful statistical and data science modeling component is crucial to understand the dependencies and cascading effects of small or large changes,” says the study’s coauthor Snigdhansu Chatterjee of the University of Minnesota’s School of Statistics.

This study was published in May in PLOS ONE.

Childhood Cancer and IVF

Since 1978, when Louise Brown became the first baby conceived and born through in vitro fertilization (IVF), researchers have been studying the possible health consequences of the breakthrough treatment for infertility—including premature deliveries, lower birth weights, and even possible cancer risks to both the mother and the baby. Now, University of Minnesota researchers have concluded the largest study to date of childhood cancer rates after IVF conception.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, live birth records were linked to cancer registries in 14 states—a data set that comprised 66 percent of births in the U.S. and 75 percent of IVF births. The results showed a small association between IVF and early childhood cancers and an increased rate of rare liver cancers for IVF-conceived children. However, the study wasn’t able to tease out whether those cancers were caused by IVF treatment or the underlying infertility.

Researchers say that because the increased risk only applies to rare forms of cancer, the results should reassure parents who have conceived children through IVF. “The most important takeaway from our research is that most childhood cancers are not more frequent in children conceived by IVF,” says Logan Spector, the study’s coauthor and a professor in the U of M Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics.

This study was published online in April in JAMA Pediatrics.

Help for the Walleye

At a time when aquatic invasive species are clogging lakes across the United States with weeds, one might think that water getting clearer in any lake would be good news. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the walleyes in Lake Mille Lacs, a popular fishing area located about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities. Beloved by anglers for their feisty disposition and by diners for their flaky white meat, the numbers of these Minnesota state fish have
decreased dramatically at the lake since the 1990s.

According to Gretchen Hanson, a natural fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology assistant professor at the U’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, walleyes thrive in deep water that’s cool and dark. At Mille Lacs, which is relatively shallow, researchers found that walleyes can no longer seek out the darker, tea-colored water that’s found in deeper clear lakes. (Researchers theorize Mille Lacs is becoming clearer because of improvements in septic systems around the lake and an invasion of zebra mussels, which strain out microscopic algae.)

In addition to tracking the walleye population decline, the study also identified tools to sustain walleye populations even in less favorable conditions. The hope is that by altering the harvest according to changing circumstances, Mille Lacs will be able to remain a walleye fishery. U researchers are also working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to assess walleye habitat in other Minnesota lakes. That project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2020.

This study was published in May in Ecosphere

As always, a deep bow to the folks at the University Relations News Service team.

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