Florida researchers try to put scent back into flowers

If you are among the millions who receive flowers on Valentine’s Day, you likely will put your nose to a rose, only to find you can’t catch a whiff of your favorite floral aroma. And it isn’t because your sense of smell has diminished. Plant breeding has led to bigger, longer-lasting blooms, but in the process many flowers have lost their scents – a trend University of Florida researchers hope to reverse. The researchers are investigating ways to put scent back in, either through genetic engineering or by developing chemical formulations that might be used through a spray application.

Researchers develop microbes and plants to detect explosives in soil

To detect toxic explosive residues in the soil – including unexploded artillery shells and other weapons – Florida researchers are using genetic engineering to modify microbes and plants that can be used as “biosensors.” The three-year research project, supported by a $2.3 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, will help clean up thousands of acres of land that have been used for military training in the United States and abroad.

Calorie restriction reduces age-related brain cell death

Trimming the waistline may not be the only reason to cut calories after the New Year: Doing so also may protect the brain from aging. In the first study to look specifically at the effects of life-long calorie-restricted diets on brain cells, University of Florida researchers determined certain proteins linked to cell death that naturally increase with age were significantly reduced in the brains of rats whose calories were limited. More important, they found the levels of a beneficial protein known to provide potent protection against neuron death were twice as high in older rats whose calories were restricted by 40 percent.

An unlikely new weapon against deadly bacteria in oysers: A virus

People looking forward to eating raw oysters over the holidays will welcome news that scientists are making progress in the fight against a rare but deadly disease associated with the tasty bivalves. Two Florida researchers report curing mice of the disease by using a virus to attack its bacterial source – Vibrio vulnificus. The scientists say the research may lead to techniques to purify oysters after harvest but before they reach raw bars and seafood markets – and might one day result in a better cure for the disease in people. The work, reported in a November article in the journal Infection and Immunity, is part of a growing trend in research to use bacteria-attacking viruses, or “phages,” to cure diseases caused by bacteria.

Possible treatment window for spasticity in spinal cord injury

It’s a cruel irony that strikes many victims of spinal cord injury: In those who suffer only partial paralysis, limbs that should remain healthy become stiff and useless because of chronic spasticity, a painful condition that causes muscles to contract involuntarily. But Florida researchers charting the development of spasticity in rats with spinal cord injuries were surprised to find the process briefly reverses itself. This discovery raises the possibility that physicians could someday find a way to spare patients its debilitating effects by intervening at a critical time.

Longer kidney transplant wait times linked to poorer outcomes

The longer patients on dialysis wait for a kidney transplant once they develop end-stage renal disease, the worse they fare, researchers have confirmed. The findings reinforce the benefit of transplantation over dialysis for these patients and highlight the importance of placing them on the transplant list as early in the course of their disease as possible, researchers say.