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Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

'Road Runoff Spurring Spotted Salamander Evolution'

This is a press release sent by none other than the one and only David DeFusco, director of Media Relations and Outreach and
editor, Environment:Yale magazine. It is not edited here - but is posted because it is amazing news. And what is not to love about turns of phrase such as "bystanders to human activities." (The photo also is courtesy of David's link - thanks David!)

NEW HAVEN —Spotted salamanders exposed to contaminated roadside ponds are adapting to their toxic environments, according to a Yale paper in Scientific Reports. This study provides the first documented evidence that a vertebrate has adapted to the negative effects of roads apparently by evolving rapidly.
 Salamanders breeding in roadside ponds are exposed to a host of contaminants from road runoff. Chief among these is sodium chloride from road salt, which reaches average concentrations of 70 times higher in roadside ponds compared to woodland ponds located several hundred feet from the road.
"While the evolutionary consequences of roads are largely unknown, we know they are strong agents of natural selection and set the stage for fast evolution," said Steven Brady, the study's author and a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "These animals are growing up in harsh environments where they face a cocktail of contaminants, and it appears that they are evolving to cope with them."
Brady found that salamanders in roadside ponds have higher mortality, grow at a slower rate and are more than likely to develop L-shaped spines and other disfigurements. In roadside ponds, only 56 percent of salamander eggs survive the first 10 weeks of development, whereas 87 percent survive in the woodland ponds. As roadside ponds become more toxic, the surviving salamanders may develop a genetic advantage over their counterparts living in woodland ponds.
However, the salamanders that survive year after year in the roadside ponds appear to have adapted to the harsh conditions.
"The animals that come from roadside ponds actually do better—substantially better—than the ones that originate from woodland ponds when they're raised together," Brady said.
That animals adapt to human activities is not altogether new. For example, fish have begun to mature at smaller sizes in response to commercial fishing. But whereas humans directly utilize fish for consumption, salamanders are just bystanders to human activities. This suggests that the majority of species, which are not specifically targeted for human use, may be experiencing profound evolutionary consequences. And it appears that even species not being driven to extinction—and seldom thought about—are changing.
"This adaptation is certainly encouraging for conservation," said Brady. "But our modern footprint is fundamentally changing species in ways we don't understand and, critically, we don't know if these adaptive responses will keep pace with environmental change."
Brady observed the development of the salamanders in 10 ponds—five roadside and five woodland—at Yale Myers Forest and in the town of Willington, both in northeastern Connecticut. The paper, "Road to Evolution? Local Adaptation to Road Adjacency in an Amphibian (Ambystoma maculatum)," is available at

Monday, January 9, 2012

Surprise! Food news on Vegging Out!

No surprise, however, that this news again comes from the folks at Yale. (Heck, they do a lot of studies, why not share them?) I also am posting it here because you might not otherwise see it. And while I am not advocating one way or the other on this, I do think it is important we consider these issues as we make purchasing choices. To be honest, I had not heard of a"advergames" and in retrospect am glad my kids did not have this option when they were younger. Kids are doing it by the millions now, this release says.
Again - this is a press release - I am simply sharing it.
NEW HAVEN - Despite food company pledges to reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children, a Yale University study finds that children are disproportionately targeted by food company websites using branded computer games, known as advergames. Researchers also found that playing these games increases children's consumption of junk food. The study is published online in the Journal of Children and Media. 
Researchers from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity conducted a two-tiered study to determine how many young people visit advergame websites and how much time they spend there; whether exposure to advergames for unhealthy products contributes to increased consumption of unhealthy food; and whether advergames that promote nutritious foods can positively influence children's healthy food consumption.
 In the first study, the team utilized syndicated Internet usage data from comScore to examine the number and age of visitors to food company websites and the relative usage of sites that contained advergames. The study found that over one million children visit food company advergame sites every month and that they spend up to one hour per month on some sites. The majority of advergame sites promote candy, high-sugar cereals, and fast food, and many feature products that food companies have pledged they will not market to children. Young people were significantly more engaged in these sites compared with other food company-sponsored websites, according to the study.
 The second study examined 152 children and measured how much snack food they consumed after playing advergames that featured unhealthy or healthy food, compared with playing computer games that did not focus on food. Advergames that promoted junk food increased the children's consumption of unhealthy snack foods by 56 percent compared to playing the healthy games, and 16 percent more than playing the control games. In addition, children who played unhealthy advergames consumed one-third fewer fruits and vegetables than children who played the control and healthy games. Children who previously played advergames were affected the most, and both older and younger children were similarly affected. Advergames encouraging healthy eating did increase fruit and vegetable consumption, but the researchers found only one advergame website that promoted primarily healthy foods.
  According to the researchers, several companies in the United States have pledged to shift their child-targeted advertising to "better-for-you" foods through the voluntary Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. However, not one advergame in this analysis met the council's criteria for child-directed advertising.
 "While research has shown a decline in television food advertisements targeted to children, companies are introducing new and sophisticated forms of marketing such as advergames that allow children to engage in advertising content for unlimited amounts of time," says author Jennifer Harris, the Rudd Center's director of marketing initiatives.
 The researchers assert that this study showing the reach and impact of advergames on children's eating behaviors demonstrates the need for substantial reductions in the use of advergames to promote unhealthy food to children.

Editor's note: All information in this post was contributed. It is unedited here.

Anyone else horrified by this important news?

I don't know about you, but I was thinking my head had gotten smaller.
This is a Yale press release and it's amazingly interesting. It tells me: Take a darn big breath, go for a walk and relax.
Yale says: "Even in the healthy, stress causes brain to shrink, Yale study shows"

NEW HAVEN.— Experiencing stressful life events, such as a divorce or job loss, can reduce gray matter in critical regions of the brain that regulate emotion and important physiological functions — even in healthy individuals, Yale researchers report in a study published online the week of Jan. 9 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
The brain imaging study of more than 100 healthy subjects suggests these differences are apparent soon after stressful events occur and may serve as warning signals of future psychiatric disorders and chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, said Rajita Sinha, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, and professor in the Department of Neurobiology and the Yale Child Study Center.
Chronic abuse, trauma, and stress have been linked to changes in brain structure and function in animals and to psychiatric disorders such as addiction, depression, and anxiety in humans.  However, the effects of stress on brains of healthy individuals have been unclear. Yale researchers decided to look at the volume of gray matter — the tissue containing nerve cells and their branching projections called dendrites — in a group of community participants.
The team conducted magnetic resonance imaging scans of 103 healthy subjects who had been interviewed about traumatic stress and adverse life events, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a home to natural disaster, job loss or divorce. They found that even the brains of subjects who had only recently experienced a stressful life event showed markedly lower gray matter in portions of the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that regulates not only emotions and self-control, but physiological functions such as blood pressure and glucose levels.
"The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress, particularly if the next demanding event requires effortful control, emotion regulation, or integrated social processing to overcome it," said Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.
Sinha said that the study illustrates the need to address causes of stress in life "and find ways to deal with the emotional fallout."
 "The brain is dynamic and plastic and things can improve — but only if stress is dealt with in a healthy manner," Sinha said. "If not, the effects of stress can have a negative impact on both our physical and mental health."
Other Yale-affiliated authors of the study are Kenneth Rando, Kerit Tuit, and Joseph Guarnaccia.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health

Links:Rajita Sinha

Editor's note: All information in this post was contributed. It is unedited here. (That means it's a press release, written by those smart folks over at Yale. We did not even touch it up. It's posted here as a public service.)