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"Maternity Risks for Rural Mothers," "New Advances in Plant Gene Editing," and "Slow Going: fat, metabolism, and aging"

Photo Credit: Jeon Sang-O/Pixabay

New Advances in Plant Gene Editing

As the global population approaches 8 billion, food scientists are wrestling with multiple challenges, including pest infestations, extreme weather, and a warming climate. The solution to these issues will depend in part on technical advances, including the gene editing of plants to make them more resilient to problems. Now, thanks to a research team at the U of M’s College of Biological Sciences (CBS), a laborious and time-consuming process required to do that may soon be replaced by a more efficient method. 

Until recently, researchers used tissue culture to create gene-edited plants. Not only is that process expensive, it’s also labor-intensive and must be done in a sterile environment. What’s more, tissue culture can only be used on a limited number of plant species.

Using growth regulators and gene editing reagents, U of M researchers are experimenting with tobacco plants to get seedlings to develop new shoots that contain edited genes. They then collect seeds from these gene-edited shoots and continue refining their work.

The process can now be done in a matter of weeks instead of months or years. And it doesn’t need a sterile lab. “You could do this in your garage,” says the study’s coauthor, Michael Maher, who is a Ph.D. candidate in CBS, adding that the technique will make it easier for smaller labs with fewer resources to get into plant gene editing.

This research was presented in the 2019 issue of

Nature Biotechnology.

Maternity Risks for Rural Mothers

Death rates and life-threatening complications for women giving birth are on the rise across the United States; the risks are especially high in rural parts of the country. According to a new study by the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center and the University of Michigan, rural women are 9 percent more likely to suffer from severe maternal morbidity and mortality (SMMM) than their urban counterparts. Women of color, both rural and urban, face even higher risks. These challenges stem in part from the fact that access to obstetric services— including maternity wards—has declined in rural regions.

Researchers used national hospital discharge data for 2007 to 2015 from the National Inpatient Sample, the largest inpatient database in the country, to analyze SMMM cases. In addition to the increased risks for rural mothers, they also found that non-Hispanic Black, American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian women— both rural and urban—are 33 percent more likely to experience SMMM than non-Hispanic white women. Medicaid patients and women with no insurance also face greater risks.

The authors’ recommendations to combat these challenges include adding rural voices and perspectives to maternal morbidity review committees and increasing funding to support pregnancy and childbirth in rural America. “Understanding the realities faced by rural patients, families, clinicians, and health care facilities is crucial to ensuring successful clinical and policy efforts to reduce maternal morbidity and death,” says School of Public Health Associate Professor Katy Kozhimannil (B. A. ‘99), who co-led the study. “Centering rural voices and experiences will help inform strategies to effectively target resources and to make the financial and health care delivery reforms needed to improve childbirth outcomes.”

This study was published in the December 19 issue of Health Affairs.

Slow Going: fat, metabolism, and aging

Anyone of a certain age knows that as the years tick by, it becomes harder and harder to keep the pounds off. In addition to the more visible subcutaneous fat—that’s what makes our bellies bulge—there’s also visceral fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and arteries and can cause the kinds of inflammation that can lead to strokes and heart disease. New research by College of Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Christina Camell helps explain why visceral fat increases as we age.

Camell and a colleague from Yale University studied the location of adipose tissue—that’s fat—in young and old mice. What they discovered is that a type of immune cell—adipose B—expands with age, increasing inflammation. By using a depleting antibody to remove those cells, they were able to restore the body’s ability to burn fat and reduce inflammation.

More research is needed to understand how B cells impair the body’s ability to burn fat and whether these changes occur in humans. Camell and her colleagues will study these immune-metabolic changes and then identify therapeutic options for improving metabolism during the aging process.

This study originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Cell Metabolism

As always, a huge thanks to the people at University News Service.

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