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Lasers & molecular tethers create perfectly patterned platforms for tissue engineering

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Imagine going to a surgeon to have a diseased or injured organ switched out for a fully functional, laboratory-grown replacement. This remains science fiction and not reality because researchers today struggle to organize cells into the complex 3D arrangements that our bodies can master on their own.

There are two major hurdles to overcome on the road to laboratory-grown organs and tissues. The first is to use a biologically compatible 3D scaffold in which cells can grow. The second is to decorate that scaffold with biochemical messages in the correct configuration to trigger the formation of the desired organ or tissue.

In a major step toward transforming this hope into reality, researchers at the University of Washington have developed a technique to modify naturally occurring biological polymers with protein-based biochemical messages that affect cell behavior. Their approach, published the week of Jan. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses a near-infrared laser to trigger chemical adhesion of protein messages to a scaffold made from biological polymers such as collagen, a connective tissue found throughout our bodies.

Mammalian cells responded as expected to the adhered protein signals within the 3D scaffold, according to senior author Cole DeForest, a UW associate professor of chemical engineering and of bioengineering. The proteins on these biological scaffolds triggered changes to messaging pathways within the cells that affect cell growth, signaling and other behaviors.

These methods could form the basis of biologically based scaffolds that might one day make functional laboratory-grown tissues a reality, said DeForest, who is also a faculty member with the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute and the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.

“This approach provides us with the opportunities we’ve been waiting for to exert greater control over cell function and fate in naturally derived biomaterials — not just in three-dimensional space but also over time,” said DeForest. “Moreover, it makes use of exceptionally precise photochemistries that can be controlled in 4D while uniquely preserving protein function and bioactivity.”

DeForest’s colleagues on this project are lead author Ivan Batalov, a former UW postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering and bioengineering, and co-author Kelly Stevens, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering and of laboratory medicine and pathology.

Their method is a first for the field, spatially controlling cell function inside naturally occurring biological materials as opposed to those that are synthetically derived. Several research groups, including DeForest’s, have developed light-based methods to modify synthetic scaffolds with protein signals. But natural biological polymers can be a more attractive scaffold for tissue engineering because they innately possess biochemical characteristics that cells rely on for structure, communication and other purposes.

“A natural biomaterial like collagen inherently includes many of the same signaling cues as those found in native tissue,” said DeForest. “In many cases, these types of materials keep cells ‘happier’ by providing them with similar signals to those they would encounter in the body.”

They worked with two types of biological polymers: collagen and fibrin, a protein involved in blood clotting. They assembled each into fluid-filled scaffolds known as hydrogels.

The signals that the team added to the hydrogels are proteins, one of the main messengers for cells. Proteins come in many forms, all with their own unique chemical properties. As a result, the researchers designed their system to employ a universal mechanism to attach proteins to a hydrogel — the binding between two chemical groups, an alkoxyamine and an aldehyde. Prior to hydrogel assembly, they decorated the collagen or fibrin precursors with alkoxyamine groups, all physically blocked with a “cage” to prevent the alkoxyamines from reacting prematurely. The cage can be removed with ultraviolet light or a near-infrared laser.

Using methods previously developed in DeForest’s laboratory, the researchers also installed aldehyde groups to one end of the proteins they wanted to attach to the hydrogels. They then combined the aldehyde-bearing proteins with the alkoxyamine-coated hydrogels, and used a brief pulse of light to remove the cage covering the alkoxyamine. The exposed alkoxyamine readily reacted with the aldehyde group on the proteins, tethering them within the hydrogel. The team used masks with patterns cut into them, as well as changes to the laser scan geometries, to create intricate patterns of protein arrangements in the hydrogel — including an old UW logo, Seattle’s Space Needle, a monster and the 3D layout of the human heart.

The tethered proteins were fully functional, delivering desired signals to cells. Rat liver cells — when loaded onto collagen hydrogels bearing a protein called EGF, which promotes cell growth — showed signs of DNA replication and cell division. In a separate experiment, the researchers decorated a fibrin hydrogel with patterns of a protein called Delta-1, which activates a specific pathway in cells called Notch signaling. When they introduced human bone cancer cells into the hydrogel, cells in the Delta-1-patterned regions activated Notch signaling, while cells in areas without Delta-1 did not.

These experiments with multiple biological scaffolds and protein signals indicate that their approach could work for almost any type of protein signal and biomaterial system, DeForest said.

“Now we can start to create hydrogel scaffolds with many different signals, utilizing our understanding of cell signaling in response to specific protein combinations to modulate critical biological function in time and space,” he added.

With more-complex signals loaded on to hydrogels, scientists could then try to control stem cell differentiation, a key step in turning science fiction into science fact.

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The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Gree Real Estate.

For more information, contact DeForest at [email protected]

Source: https://bioengineer.org/lasers-molecular-tethers-create-perfectly-patterned-platforms-for-tissue-engineering/

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New technology allows scientists first glimpse of intricate details of Little Foot’s life

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Credit: Copyright Diamond Light Source Ltd

In June 2019, an international team brought the complete skull of the 3.67-million-year-old Little Foot Australopithecus skeleton, from South Africa to the UK and achieved unprecedented imaging resolution of its bony structures and dentition in an X-ray synchrotron-based investigation at the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source. The X-ray work is highlighted in a new paper in e-Life, published today (2nd March 2021) focusing on the inner craniodental features of Little Foot. The remarkable completeness and great age of the Little Foot skeleton makes it a crucially important specimen in human origins research and a prime candidate for exploring human evolution through high-resolution virtual analysis.

To recover the smallest possible details from a fairly large and very fragile fossil, the team decided to image the skull using synchrotron X-ray micro computed tomography at the I12 beamline at Diamond, revealing new information about human evolution and origins. This paper outlines preliminary results of the X-ray synchrotron-based investigation of the dentition and bones of the skull (i.e., cranial vault and mandible).

Leading author and Principal Investigator, Dr Amelie Beaudet, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge and honorary research at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) explains: “We had the unique opportunity to look at the finest details of the craniodental anatomy of the Little Foot skull. While scanning it, we did not know how well the smallest structures would be preserved in this individual, who lived more than 3.5 million years ago. So, when we were finally able to examine the images, we were all very excited and moved to see such intimate details of the life of Little Foot for the first time. The microstructures observed in the enamel indicate that Little Foot suffered through two clear periods of dietary stress or illness when she was a child.”

The team were also able to observe and describe the vascular canals that are enclosed in the compact bone of the mandible. These structures have the potential to reveal a lot about the biomechanics of eating in this individual and its species, but also more broadly about how bone was remodelled in Little Foot The branching pattern of these canals indicates some remodelling took place, perhaps in response to changes in diet, and that Little Foot died as an older individual.

The team also observed tiny (i.e., less than 1 mm) channels in the braincase that are possibly involved in brain thermoregulation (i.e., how to cool down the brain). Brain size increased dramatically throughout human evolution (about threefold), and, because the brain is very sensitive to temperature change, understanding how temperature regulation evolves is of prime interest. Dr Amelie Beaudet adds: “Traditionally, none of these observations would have been possible without cutting the fossil into very thin slices, but with the application of synchrotron technology there is an exciting new field of virtual histology being developed to explore the fossils of our distant ancestors.”

Dr Thomas Connolley, Principal Beamline Scientist at Diamond commented:
“Important aspects of early hominin biology remain debated, or simply unknown. In that context, synchrotron X-ray imaging techniques like microtomography have the potential to non-destructively reveal crucial details on the development, physiology, biomechanics and taxonomy of fossil specimens. Little Foot’s skull was also scanned using the adjacent IMAT neutron instrument at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, combining X-ray and neutron imaging techniques in one visit to the UK. With such a rich volume of information collected, we’re eager to make more discoveries in the complementary X-ray and neutron tomography scans.”

Applications of X-ray synchrotron-based analytical techniques in evolutionary studies have opened up new avenues in the field of (paleo)anthropology. In particular, X-ray synchrotron microtomography has proved to be enormously useful for observing the smallest anatomical structures in fossils that are traditionally only seen by slicing through the bones and looking at them under a microscope. Through the last decade, there have been more studies in palaeoanthropology using synchrotron radiation to investigate teeth and brain imprints in fossil hominins. However, scanning a complete skull such as the one of Little Foot and aiming to reveal very small details using a very high-resolution was quite challenging, but the team managed to develop a new protocol that made this possible. To recover the smallest possible details from a fairly large and very fragile fossil, the team decided to image the skull using synchrotron X-ray micro computed tomography at the I12 beamline at Diamond.

Principal Investigator, and Associate Professor, Prof Dominic Stratford, University of Witwatersrand (Wits University), School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies says: “This level of resolution is providing us with remarkably clear evidence of this individual’s life. We think there will also be a hugely significant evolutionary aspect, as studying this fossil in this much detail will help us understand which species she evolved from and how she differs from others found at a similar time in Africa. This is just our first paper so watch this space. Funding permitting, we hope to be able to bring other parts of Little Foot to Diamond,” adding:

“This research was about bringing the best-preserved Australopithecus skull to the best of the best synchrotron facility for our purposes. Traditionally, hominins have been analysed by measuring and describing by the exterior shapes of their fossilised bones to assess how these differ between species. Synchrotron development and microCT resources means that we are now able to virtually observe structures inside the fossils, which hold a wealth of information. More recently, technology has developed to such an extent that we can now virtually explore minute histological structures in three dimensions, opening new avenues for our research.”

The first bones of the Little Foot fossil were discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves, northwest of Johannesburg, by Professor Ron Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand in 1994. In 1997, following their discovery of the location of the skeleton, Professor Clarke and his team spent more than 20 years painstakingly removing the skeleton in stages from the concrete-like cave breccia using a small airscribe (a vibrating needle). Following cleaning and reconstructing, the skeleton was publicly unveiled in 2018. Wits University is the custodian of the StW 573, Little Foot, fossil.

Professor Ron Clarke, the British scientist based in South Africa who discovered and excavated Little Foot and conducted all the early examinations of the fossil, was also part of the research team and concludes: “It has taken us 23 years to get to this point. This is an exciting new chapter in Little Foot’s history, and this is only the first paper resulting from her first trip out of Africa. We are constantly uncovering new information from the wealth of new data that was obtained. We hope this endeavour will lead to more funding to continue our work. Our team and PAST* emphasise that all of humanity has had a long-shared ancestry in harmony with the natural world, and that learning from those earliest ancestors gives us perspective on the necessity to conserve nature and our planet.”

This paper is the first in what is expected to be a series of papers resulting from the wealth of data the Principal Investigators from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa the University of Cambridge in UK, co-investigators from the Natural History Museum and Diamond were able to gain from their collaboration. Little Foot also underwent neutron imaging at STFC’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source at the same time as the work undertaken at Diamond Light Source, providing unprecedented access to complementary advanced imaging techniques. Neutrons are absorbed very differently from X-rays by the fossil’s interior parts thanks to the sensitivity of neutrons to certain chemical elements. Despite having coarser spatial resolution, neutron tomography can sometimes differentiate between different mineralogical constituents for which contrast is very low for X-rays.

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Authors of the paper in eLife: ‘Preliminary paleohistological observations of the StW 573 Little Foot skull’ – Amelie Beaudet, Robert Atwood, Winfried Kockelmann, Vincent Fernandez, Thomas Connolley, Nghia Trong Vo, Ronald Clarke, Dominic Stratford.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.64804

The team: Principal Investigators, Professor Dominic Stratford and Dr Amelie Beaudet from the University of the Witwatersrand and University of Cambridge respectively, co-investigators Dr Vincent Fernandez, Natural History Museum, Dr Robert Atwood and Dr Nghia Trong Vo, Diamond Light Source, Dr Thomas Connolley, Principle Beamline Scientist, Diamond Light Source and Dr Winfried Kockelmann, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Professor Ron Clarke, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

*PAST South Africa (Paleontological Scientific Trust https://www.past.org.za/learn/ ) was set up to
fund research into LF and has since funded and facilitated research into literally tons of fossils and excavation project. It has funded numerous research projects on specimens that reveal details of our humanity and our link with nature ‘We are all from Africa’.

For further information please contact Diamond Communications: Lorna Campbell +44 7836 625999 or Isabelle Boscaro-Clarke +44 1235 778130

About Diamond Light Source:

W: http://www.diamond.ac.uk Twitter: @DiamondLightSou

Diamond Light Source provides industrial and academic user communities with access to state-of-the-art analytical tools to enable world-changing science. Shaped like a huge ring, it works like a giant microscope, accelerating electrons to near light speeds, to produce a light 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, which is then directed off into 33 laboratories known as beamlines. In addition to these, Diamond offers access to several integrated laboratories including the world-class Electron Bio-imaging Centre (eBIC) and the Electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC).

Diamond serves as an agent of change, addressing 21st century challenges such as disease, clean energy, food security and more. Since operations started, more than 14,000 researchers from both academia and industry have used Diamond to conduct experiments, with the support of approximately 760 world-class staff. More than 10,000 scientific articles have been published by our users and scientists.

Funded by the UK Government through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and by the Wellcome Trust, Diamond is one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world, and its pioneering capabilities are helping to keep the UK at the forefront of scientific research.

About Wits University:

W: http://www.wits.ac.za Twitter: @Wits_News & @WitsUniversity

Wits University is a research-intensive University, one of the leading institutions on the African continent that produces world-class research that is locally relevant and globally competitive. Wits is a global leader in the palaeosciences, one of its key research areas. Wits research output has increased by over 45% in the last four years with more than 85% of its research published in international journals. Wits offers a free space for the exchange of ideas and a vibrant intellectual community that fosters debate and knowledge transfer both within and beyond our lecture halls. Wits latest research available at http://www.wits.ac.za/ research.

About the University of Cambridge

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 110 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize.

Founded in 1209, the University comprises 31 autonomous Colleges and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. Cambridge is a global university. Its 19,000 student body includes 3,700 international students from 120 countries. Cambridge researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and the University has established larger-scale partnerships in Asia, Africa and America.

The University sits at the heart of the Cambridge cluster, which employs more than 61,000 people and has in excess of £15 billion in turnover generated annually by the 5,000 knowledge-intensive firms in and around the city. The city publishes 316 patents per 100,000 residents.
http://www.cam.ac.uk

Twitter: @Cambridge_Uni @UCamArchaeology

About the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

W: https://stfc.ukri.org T: https://twitter.com/stfc_matters

ISIS Neutron and Muon Source produces beams of neutrons and muons that allow scientists to study materials at the atomic level using a suite of instruments, often described as ‘super-microscopes’. It supports a national and international community of more than 2000 scientists who use neutrons and muons for research in physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, engineering, and biology.

ISIS Neutron and Muon Source is a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences. It is owned and operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is part of UK Research and Innovation; the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB and the ESO telescopes in Chile.

Media Contact
Lorna Campbell
lorna.campbell@diamond.ac.uk

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.64804

Source: https://bioengineer.org/new-technology-allows-scientists-first-glimpse-of-intricate-details-of-little-foots-life/

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Common bacteria modified to make designer sugar-based drug

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Process paves a road to safe, ethical, and fast drug manufacturing

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Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

TROY, N.Y. — Envisioning an animal-free drug supply, scientists have — for the first time — reprogrammed a common bacterium to make a designer polysaccharide molecule used in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals. Published today in Nature Communications, the researchers modified E. coli to produce chondroitin sulfate, a drug best known as a dietary supplement to treat arthritis that is currently sourced from cow trachea.

Genetically engineered E. coli is used to make a long list of medicinal proteins, but it took years to coax the bacteria into producing even the simplest in this class of linked sugar molecules — called sulfated glycosaminoglycans –that are often used as drugs and nutraceuticals..

“It’s a challenge to engineer E. coli to produce these molecules, and we had to make many changes and balance those changes so that the bacteria will grow well,” said Mattheos Koffas, lead researcher and a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “But this work shows that it is possible to produce these polysaccharides using E. coli in animal-free fashion, and the procedure can be extended to produce other sulfated glycosaminoglycans.”

At Rensselaer, Koffas worked with Jonathan Dordick a fellow professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Robert Linhardt a professor of chemistry and chemical biology. All three are members of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Dordick is a pioneer in using enzymes for material synthesis and designing biomolecular tools for the development of better drugs. Linhardt is a glycans expert and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the blood-thinner heparin, a sulfated glycosaminoglycans currently derived from pig intestine.

Linhardt, who developed the first synthetic version of heparin, said engineering E. coli to produce the drug has many advantages over the current extractive process or even a chemoenzymatic process.

“If we prepare chondroitin sulfate chemoenzymatically, and we make one gram, and it takes a month to make, and someone calls us and says, ‘Well, now I need 10 grams,’ we’re going to have to spend another month to make 10 grams,” Linhardt said. “Whereas, with the fermentation, you throw the engineered organism in a flask, and you have the material, whether it’s one gram, or 10 grams, or a kilogram. This is the future.”

“The ability to endow a simple bacterium with a biosynthetic pathway only found in animals is critical for synthesis at commercially relevant scales. Just as important is that the complex medicinal product that we produced in E. coli is structurally the same as that used as the dietary supplement.” said Dordick.

Koffas outlined three major steps the team had to build into the bacteria so that it would produce chondroitin sulfate: introducing a gene cluster to produce an unsulfated polysaccharide precursor molecule, engineering the bacteria to make an ample supply of an energetically expensive sulfur donor molecule, and introducing a sulfur transferase enzyme to put the sulfur donor molecule onto the unsulfated polysaccharide precursor molecule.

Introducing a working sulfotransferase enzyme posed a particularly difficult challenge.

“The sulfotransferases are made by much more complex cells,” Koffas said. “When you take them out of a complex eukaryotic cell and put them into E. coli, they’re not functional at all. You basically get nothing. So we had to do quite a bit of protein engineering to make it work.”

The team first produced a structure of the enzyme, and then used an algorithm to help identify mutations they could make to the enzyme to produce a stable version that would work in E. coli.

Although the modified E. coli produce a relatively small yield — on the order of micrograms per liter — they thrive under ordinary lab conditions, offering a robust proof of concept.

“This work is a milestone in engineering and manufacturing of biologics and it opens new avenues in several fields such as therapeutics and regenerative medicine that need a substantial supply of specific molecules whose production is lost with aging and diseases,” said Deepak Vashishth, director of the CBIS. “Such advances take birth and thrive in interdisciplinary environments made possible through the unique integration of knowledge and resources available at the Rensselaer CBIS.”

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“Complete biosynthesis of a sulfated chondroitin in Escherichia coli” was published today in Nature Communications with support from National Science Foundation Grant CBET-1604547. Dordick, Linhardt, and Koffas were joined in the research at Rensselaer by Abinaya Badri, Asher Williams, Adeola Awofiranye, Payel Datta, Ke Xia, Wenqin He, and Keith Fraser. Once published, the paper can be found using DOI:10.1038/s41467-021-21692-5.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and over 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit http://www.rpi.edu.

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Mary Martialay
martim12@rpi.edu

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21692-5

Source: https://bioengineer.org/common-bacteria-modified-to-make-designer-sugar-based-drug/

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Meeting the meat needs of the future

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Credit: Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan – Humans are largely omnivores, and meat in various forms has always featured in the diet of most cultures. However, with the increasing population and pressure on the environment, traditional methods of meeting this fundamental food requirement are likely to fall short. Now, researchers at the University of Tokyo report innovative biofabrication of bovine muscle tissue in the laboratory that may help meet escalating future demands for dietary meat.

With global urbanization, the economics of animal husbandry are becoming unsustainable. From an environmental viewpoint, the land and water costs of modern mega-scale livestock farming are untenable, as are the greenhouse gas emissions and the overall toll on the planet. Additionally, ethical concerns against inhuman exploitation of lower species for food are increasingly being voiced.

To address future requirements, tissue engineering of cultured meat is under development at several centers worldwide. However, most biosynthetic meat products are amorphous or granular-like minced meat, lacking the grain and texture of real animal flesh. Mai Furuhashi, lead author, explains their novel process. “Using techniques developed for regenerative medicine, we succeeded in culturing millimeter-sized chunks of meat wherein alignment of the myotubes help mimic the texture and mouthfeel of steak. For this, myoblasts drawn from commercial beef were cultured in hydrogel modules that could be stacked allowing fusion into larger chunks. We determined the optimal scaffolding and electrical stimulation to promote contractility and anatomical alignment of the muscle tissue to best simulate steak meat.”

Lead author, Yuya Morimoto, describes the synthesized product. “Our morphological, functional and food feature analyses showed that the cultured muscle tissue holds promise as a credible steak substitute. Breaking force measurements showed that toughness approached that of natural beef over time. Significantly, microbial contamination was undetectable; this has implications for cleanliness, consumer acceptability and shelf-life.”

“Our method paves the way for further development of larger portions of realistic cultured meat that can supplement or replace animal sources,” claims Shoji Takeuchi, senior and corresponding author. “However, there is a long way to go before lab-grown meat is indistinguishable from the real thing and hurdles concerning consumer acceptance and cultural sensibilities are overcome. Nevertheless, this innovation promises to be a green and ethical alternative to animal slaughter in meeting our need for dietary meat.”

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The article, “Formation of contractile 3D bovine muscle tissue for construction of millimetre-thick cultured steak” was published in Science of Food. at DOI: 10.1038/s41538-021-00090-7.

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Shoji Takeuchi
takeuchi@hybrid.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Original Source

https://www.iis.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/news/3495/

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41538-021-00090-7

Source: https://bioengineer.org/meeting-the-meat-needs-of-the-future/

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Coffee for the birds: connecting bird-watchers with shade-grown coffee

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Credit: Virginia Tech

Since 1970, bird populations in North America have declined by approximately 2.9 billion birds, a loss of more than one in four birds. Factors in this decline include habitat loss and ecosystem degradation from human actions on the landscape.

At the same time, enthusiasm for bird-watching has grown, with more than 45 million recreational participants in the United States alone. Now, researchers are looking into how to mobilize these bird enthusiasts to help limit bird population declines.

Enter bird-friendly coffee.

Bird-friendly coffee is certified organic, but its impact on the environment goes further than that: it is cultivated specifically to maintain bird habitats instead of clearing vegetation that birds and other animals rely on.

Researchers from Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, Cornell University, and Columbia University explored whether bird-friendly coffee is on the radar of bird-watchers: are they drinking it and, if not, why not? The study results published in the journal People and Nature.

“We know bird-watchers benefit from having healthy, diverse populations of birds, and they tend to be conservation-minded folks,” explained Assistant Professor Ashley Dayer of Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. “My colleagues and I wanted to dig into this key audience to determine their interest in bird-friendly coffee.”

Bird-friendly coffee is shade-grown, meaning that it is grown and harvested under the canopy of mature trees, a process that parallels how coffee was historically grown. But with most farms in Central and South America and the Caribbean converting to full-sun operations, crucial bird habitats for migrating and resident bird species are being lost.

“Over recent decades, most of the shade coffee in Latin America has been converted to intensively managed row monocultures devoid of trees or other vegetation,” explained Amanda Rodewald, the Garvin Professor and senior director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “As a result, many birds cannot find suitable habitats and are left with poor prospects of surviving migration and successfully breeding.”

Purchasing shade-grown coffee is one of seven simple actions that people can take as a step toward returning bird populations to their previous numbers. “But even simple actions are sometimes not taken by people who you would expect to be on board. Human behavior is complex — driven by knowledge, attitudes, skills, and many other factors,” explained Dayer, an affiliate of the Global Change Center housed in Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

The research team surveyed more than 900 coffee-drinking bird-watchers to understand bird-friendly coffee behavior among bird-watchers.

“One of the most significant constraints to purchasing bird-friendly coffee among those surveyed was a lack of awareness,” said Alicia Williams, lead author and former research assistant at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech. “This includes limits on understanding what certifications exist, where to buy bird-friendly coffee, and how coffee production impacts bird habitat.”

“I was surprised to see that only 9 percent of those surveyed purchased bird-friendly coffee and less than 40 percent were familiar with it,” Williams added. “It was also interesting, though not surprising, that a large number of our respondents reported that the flavor or aroma of coffee was an important consideration in their coffee purchases, which could be a useful attribute of bird-friendly coffee to stress going forward.”

The next step to increasing awareness about shade-grown coffee and its potential impact on bird populations may include increased advertising for bird-friendly coffee, more availability of bird-friendly coffee, and collaborations between public-facing conservation organizations and coffee distributors.

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Media Contact
Krista Timney
ktimney@vt.edu

Original Source

https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2021/03/cnre-birds-and-coffee.email.html

Source: https://bioengineer.org/coffee-for-the-birds-connecting-bird-watchers-with-shade-grown-coffee/

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