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Grant Beefs up Grazing Initiative That Benefits Farmers and Environment

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Rolling green pastures dotted with grazing cows are a common sight in Virginia. However, there’s more strategy behind those grazing cows than most people know, such as the impact on the land, water quality, and farm profitability.

Rolling green pastures dotted with grazing cows are a common sight in Virginia. However, there’s more strategy behind those grazing cows than most people know, such as the impact on the land, water quality, and farm profitability.

In 2015 a small team of Virginia Cooperative Extension agents, farmers, and representatives from state and federal conservation agencies from Northern Piedmont and Northern Shenandoah Valley created the Graze 300 VA Initiative “to enable Virginia farmers to achieve 300 days of livestock grazing per year by facilitating better pasture management and environmental stewardship.” Since then, Graze 300 VA has grown to 30 Extension agents and specialists working together with farmers across Virginia.

This year, the Graze 300 VA movement is beefing up its mission — thanks to a grant from the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Strategic Plan Advancement Integrated Internal Competitive Grants Program and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. Out of 71 proposals submitted, 32 projects were funded. Graze 300 VA was the only one led by Extension agents.

Virginia Cooperative Extension agents Carl Stafford, Bobby Clark, and John Benner, and Inga Haugen, University Libraries’ liaison to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, are leading the program’s efforts.

The grant will help build on existing Graze 300 VA successes, research social factors that influence farmer change, provide in-depth grazing management training, develop better educational resources for Virginia’s farmers, and broaden the use of technology, including designing a grazing app to advance the Graze 300 VA initiative.

Most farmers graze about 220 days per year, from spring until fall, and supplement with hay during the four-month cold season. Winter feeding can account for more than 50 percent of production costs due to the cost of making hay. Inflation and spikes in the cost of farm equipment, fuel, and fertilizer make traditional grazing less profitable than years past. Currently, only a handful of farmers in Virginia regularly reach a 300-day grazing season.

According to the team’s background work, if 20 percent of Virginia farmers adopt better grazing management practices and extend their grazing season closer to 300 days per year, Virginia farms could increase profitability by more than $6 million per year.

“We have collected several case studies of farmers who have successfully extended their grazing season and have become more profitable,” Benner said. “We continue to share these experiences with other farmers.”

The team said that although Graze 300 VA could have a huge impact, getting farmers to adopt the extended grazing movement won’t be easy. Farmers’ deep-seated traditions surrounding grassland and livestock management techniques are interwoven into the fabric of these communities. For example, traditions associated with hay baling and feeding hay are a rite of passage for young people in family farming operations.

To help create strategies to encourage farmers to adopt new practices, the team recruited colleagues from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

“We believe there are traditional barriers to adopting this new way of farming that we don’t fully understand,” said Clark. “Thus we have engaged the Virginia Tech Sociology Department to help us better understand those factors.

“Farm profitability helps to ensure that Virginia’s rural communities are resilient and vibrant,” Clark continued. “Over the long term, farm profitability is a repetitive cycle. We teach farmers more profitable technologies, and as farmers adopt these technologies, it becomes the new normal. The net benefit of this cycle ensures citizens have a safe, affordable, and consistent supply of food.”

They just need the technology to do it.

The team wants to utilize unique technologies like those developed in Ireland for improving farm and forage management. They will create similar tools that can connect with farmers and technical service providers, collect and monitor farm production data, and evaluate management decisions. This technology will integrate well with Graze 300 VA partners, the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture and their SmartFarm Innovation Network (Sustainable Precision Animal Agriculture).

To create this technology, the team tapped the University Libraries’ DataBridge team to assist in scoping potential solutions and implementing a project plan. The goal is to allow Virginia cattle farmers to better capture information on their pastures and livestock and allow for more efficient use of their land and extend the grazing season further into the year. Essential data such as paddock usage to indicate cattle rotation, cattle health, and biologics will be considered for the app.

“This app can have a big impact on Virginia farmers,” said Jonathan Briganti, the manager for DataBridge. Briganti will scope “the diverse climate, cattle breeds, and workflows seen in American farms.” Such an effort requires a deeply researched and carefully executed plan, which is why the principal researchers work methodically to bring the right domain experts in the room, Briganti added.

The application will assist producers tracking and managing forage output and grazing to reduce feed costs and improve environmental quality.

Extending the grazing season also has environmental and production benefits. In well-managed pastures, the sod is thicker. This reduces runoff, soil erosion, and nutrient losses. Therefore, farmers use less fertilizer. Additionally, because thicker sod captures more water in sudden rainfall events, the pastures are more productive during dry summers when occasional storms are the only source of moisture.

The team is also partnering with farmers, agribusinesses, and several agencies to improve water quality. According to Clark, extending the grazing season will improve water infiltration, nutrient use efficiency, and soil organic matter while encouraging fewer barren areas in fields. A longer grazing season also reduces the amount of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus that ends up in surface waters that could eventually run into streams and rivers.

“It’s economics and environment and doing what is best for the landscape,” said Haugen, who was a grazing dairy farmer before she was a librarian. “A type of farming that works on flatlands, like vegetable or crop farming, might be a poor choice in the mountains. This program works with what folk are doing and helps them to be better in many areas. It benefits them and our communities that share the water, air, and soil, and then also our downstream neighbors.”

“This is the extension/outreach component of land-grant universities,” Clark said. “In this case, Virginia Cooperative Extension is helping to address three major issues across the commonwealth: ensuring a safe, affordable, and consistent food supply, helping Virginia sustain resilient communities, ensuring environmental health and stewardship, and ensuring water quality.

“This is a big deal,” Clark continued. “This initiative is improving farm profitability, environmental issues, and water quality. An enormous challenge the world faces is finding ways to have good water quality or improve water quality that do not cause a major financial burden on people or industry. In this case, we are achieving both better water quality and better farm profitability. It is a win-win situation.”

The team is seeking collaborators interested in helping with the Graze 300 VA Initiative. People interested in testing the app, learning more about grazing, supporting students in learning about data and grazing, or have questions in general are welcome to contact Haugen.

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Article: bioengineer.org

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Earliest Evidence of Humans Decorating Jewellery in Eurasia

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Upon their dispersals in Central and Western Europe by around 42,000 years ago, groups of Homo sapiens started to manipulate mammoth tusks for the production of pendants and mobiliary objects, like carved statuettes, at times decorated with geometric motifs. In addition to lines, crosses and hashtags, a new type of decoration – the alignment of punctuations – appeared in some ornaments in south-western France and figurines in Swabian Jura in Germany. Until now, most of these adornments were discovered from older excavations, and their chronological attributions remain uncertain. Hence, questions regarding the emergence of human body augmentation and the diffusion of mobiliary art in Europe remained strongly debated.

Upon their dispersals in Central and Western Europe by around 42,000 years ago, groups of Homo sapiens started to manipulate mammoth tusks for the production of pendants and mobiliary objects, like carved statuettes, at times decorated with geometric motifs. In addition to lines, crosses and hashtags, a new type of decoration – the alignment of punctuations – appeared in some ornaments in south-western France and figurines in Swabian Jura in Germany. Until now, most of these adornments were discovered from older excavations, and their chronological attributions remain uncertain. Hence, questions regarding the emergence of human body augmentation and the diffusion of mobiliary art in Europe remained strongly debated.

A new study, led by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, the University of Bologna in Italy, Wroclaw University in Poland, the Polish Geological Institute-National Research Institute, Warsaw, Poland, and the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals Polish Academy of Sciences, reports the oldest known punctate ivory pendant found in Eurasia. Its age of 41,500 years places this personal ornament from Stajnia Cave within the record of the earliest dispersals of Homo sapiens in Europe.

Methodological advances in radiocarbon dating

“Determining the exact age of this jewellery was fundamental for its cultural attribution, and we are thrilled of the result. This work demonstrates that using the most recent methodological advances in the radiocarbon method enables us to minimise the amount of sampling and achieve highly precise dates with a very small error range. If we want to seriously solve the debate on when mobiliary art emerged in Palaeolithic groups, we need to radiocarbon date these ornaments, especially those found during past fieldwork or in complex stratigraphic sequences”, says Sahra Talamo, lead author of the study and director of the BRAVHO radiocarbon lab at the Department of Chemistry G. Ciamician of Bologna University.

The study of the pendant and the awl was also carried out through digital methodologies starting from the micro-tomographic scans of the finds. “Through 3D modeling techniques, the finds were virtually reconstructed and the pendant appropriately restored, allowing detailed measurements and supporting the description of the decorations,” notes co-author Stefano Benazzi, director of the Osteoarchaeology and Paleoanthropology Laboratory (BONES Lab) at the Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna.

The personal ornament was discovered in 2010 during fieldwork directed by co-author Mikolaj Urbanowski among animal bones and a few Upper Palaeolithic stone tools. Separate short term occupations by Neanderthals and Homo sapiens groups have been identified from the cave’s archaeological record. The disposal of the pendant is probably occurred duringa hunting expedition into the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland where the pendant broke and was left behind in the cave.

Similar decorations appeared independently across Europe

“This piece of jewellery shows the great creativity and extraordinary manual skills of members of the group of Homo sapiens that occupied the site. The thickness of the plate is about 3.7 millimetres showing an astonishing precision on carving the punctures and the two holes for wearing it”, says co-author Wioletta Nowaczewska of Wroclaw University. “If the Stajnia pendant’s looping curve indicates a lunar analemma or kill scores will remain an open question. However, it is fascinating that similar decorations appeared independently across Europe”, remarks co-author Adam Nadachowski from the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals Polish Academy of Sciences.

In broad-scale scenarios on the earliest expansion of Homo sapiens in Europe, the territory of Poland is often excluded suggesting that it remained deserted for several millennia after the demise of Neanderthals. “The ages of the ivory pendant and the bone awl found at Stajnia Cave finally demonstrate that the dispersal of Homo sapiens in Poland took place as early as in Central and Western Europe. This remarkable result will change the perspective on how adaptable these early groups were and call into question the monocentric model of diffusion of the artistic innovation in the Aurignacian”, says co-athor Andrea Picin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

Further detailed analyses on the ivory assemblages of Stajnia Cave and other sites in Poland are currently underway and promise to yield more insights into the strategies of production of personal ornaments in Central-Eastern Europe.

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Article: bioengineer.org

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Follow the Boat, Find the Bird — Free Food From Trawlers Helps Identify Important Areas for Seabird Conservation

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. Seabird populations under threat due to human activity
. University College Cork research could have implications for offshore developments
. Birds with tracking devices found to follow fishing vessels for food

. Seabird populations under threat due to human activity
. University College Cork research could have implications for offshore developments
. Birds with tracking devices found to follow fishing vessels for food

Studying fishing boats’ routes could assist better coastal planning and ultimately protect threatened seabirds, according to new research from University College Cork (UCC).

An international team, led by the Marine Ecology Group at MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine hosted by UCC, equipped seabirds with the latest tracking technology and found that fishing vessels can help figure out where the birds go to feed.

Northern fulmars, a relative of the albatross, were shown to travel hundreds of kilometres in a matter of days for a meal before returning home, and their tracks revealed that up to half of the fulmars were following fishing vessels for food in the form of fishing waste thrown overboard.

The researchers then looked at the wider distribution of fulmars around Irish and UK waters and found that areas of the sea that fishing vessels spent the most time in were also where fulmars went to feed. Northern fulmars are an endangered species in Europe with markedly declining populations. This new understanding of their feeding grounds is vitally important for protecting them from the hazards they may face at sea at a time when most of the world’s seabird populations are threatened. Fulmars are often accidentally caught by vessels. Because fulmars can live to 50 years old, even occasional bycatch in fishing gear can have big implications for their population. This study highlights the need for best practice when fishing, including bird scaring lines when setting nets or trailing longlines.

Lead author Jamie Darby of MaREI at UCC said:

“Information about where seabirds go at sea is vital for making sure that new offshore developments, including windfarms, can be designed to do the least amount of harm. That’s why studies such as this one are so important.

“Humans have given seabirds a lot to contend with. They are sensitive to oil and plastic pollution; we accidentally catch them in commercial fishing gears; we’ve brought rats and other invasive species onto many of their breeding colonies over the last few centuries.”

Ireland has a huge expanse of marine territory and attracts fishing vessels from overseas because these fishing grounds are so productive. Ireland’s commitment to renewable energy means that windfarms will soon be a common fixture along the coasts. However given the islands and cliffs of Ireland are home to 24 species of seabird, proper planning of these energy generators is essential if these birds are to be protected.

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Original Article: bioengineer.org

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Unveiling the Hidden Cellular Logistics of Memory Storage in Neurons

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Exploring the mechanisms involved in sleep-dependent memory storage, a team of University of Michigan (U-M) cellular biologists found that RNAs associated with an understudied cell compartment in hippocampal neurons vary greatly between sleeping and sleep-deprived mice after learning.

Exploring the mechanisms involved in sleep-dependent memory storage, a team of University of Michigan (U-M) cellular biologists found that RNAs associated with an understudied cell compartment in hippocampal neurons vary greatly between sleeping and sleep-deprived mice after learning.

Sara Aton, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and James Delorme, a recent U-M neuroscience graduate student, hypothesized that both a learning event and subsequent sleep (or sleep loss) would impact mRNA translation. Most prior work on the effects of sleep on mRNAs have focused on transcripts in the neuronal cytosol. However, Drs. Aton and Delorme found that after learning, major changes in RNAs are instead present –almost exclusively– on ribosomes associated with neuronal cell membranes. These results have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in November 30, 2021.*

The team first applied a commonly used biochemical method that homogenizes and centrifuges the hippocampal tissue, to separate the cytosol (the aqueous component of the cytoplasm of acell within which smaller organelles and particles are suspended) from other cellular components that are usually considered “debris” (endoplasmic reticulum, golgi apparatus, cell membrane, etc.). In this study, the authors found that RNA associated with ribosomes in the cytosol varied depending on whether the animals slept or not, confirming prior transcriptomic studies. However, cytosolic ribosomes showed almost no RNA changes depending on prior learning.

“If we had just stopped there, we wouldn’t have found anything that was novel or insightful. We strongly felt that we had to rethink our methodology,” explained Aton. Since it is well known that the endoplasmic reticulum is covered with ribosomes, the machinery that converts RNAs into proteins, Delorme and Aton decided to sequence the RNAs in the other parts of the cell, the “debris,” outside of the cytosol. It is in the less-well-studied membrane-containing cell fraction that they found that many transcripts were affected as a function of prior learning. These modified transcripts also differed significantly whether the animals had been allowed to sleep following the learning – allowing a new memory to be stored – or if they had been sleep-deprived. These unexpected results open the door to many more investigations.

“By looking in those other areas of the cell, we now have the capacity to generate many new hypotheses about what happens at the molecular level when memories are consolidated, and when consolidation is interrupted due to sleep deprivation,” said Aton.

For example, in the animals that slept following learning, Aton and Delorme observed an increase in the abundance of transcripts that encode components of protein synthesis machinery in the membrane fraction of hippocampal neurons. One hypothesis would be to test whether there is indeed an increase in protein production by membrane-associated ribosomes after post-learning sleep.

In addition to mRNAs, the authors also found that learning led to changes in long non-coding RNAs’ association with neuronal membrane-bound ribosomes. These could play a role in regulating the translation of other transcripts, which should be investigated. “The cells have developed very elegant mechanisms to fine tune the process from transcription to translation, and long non-coding RNAs could be one of them in this part of the brain,” said Aton.

She further explained by comparing neurons to a large warehouse, with complex logistics that are needed to respond quickly to needs for new proteins in distant cell processes, requiring preparedness and distribution adaptation processes. “Neurons have to deliver the ‘package’ within a reasonable time frame, when it’s needed, no matter how far away that location is. Neurons have evolved to do this, and it is a huge biological question to investigate. It is important to understand how this biology works because – in addition to storing new memories – it impacts regeneration, degeneration, and neurological diseases,” concluded Aton.

This is the second PNAS publication from the Delorme-Aton team’s research. In their first article** (see press release), the team found, in sleep-deprived mice, an inhibitory gating mechanism that could disrupt hippocampal activity and memory consolidation. In contrast, post-learning sleep suppressed the activity of inhibitory interneurons, increased activity among surrounding hippocampal neurons, and improved memory storage.

Papers cited:

* “Hippocampal neurons’ cytosolic and membrane-bound ribosomal transcript profiles are differentially regulated by learning and subsequent sleep,” James Delorme, Lijing Wang, Varna Kodoth, Yifan Wang, Jingqun Ma, Sha Jiang, Sara J. Aton, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 30, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2108534118

** “Sleep loss drives acetylcholine- and somatostatin interneuron-mediated gating of hippocampal activity, to inhibit memory consolidation,” James Delorme, Lijing Wang, Femke Roig Kuhn, Varna Kodoth, Jingqun Ma , Jessy D. Martinez, Frank Raven, Brandon A. Toth, Vinodh Balendran, Alexis Vega Medina, Sha Jiang, Sara J. Aton, PNAS, June 21, 2021, 10.1073/pnas.201931811

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Article: bioengineer.org

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