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Plant improved

University of Illinois researchers have built a better plant, one that produces more leaves and fruit without requiring extra fertilizer. The researchers accomplished it using a computer model that is the first to simulate every step of the photosynthetic process.

Their research, published recently in Plant Physiology and presented at an international conference, was funded by the National Science Foundation.

They built a reliable model of photosynthesis that would accurately mimic the response to environmental change, using computational resources at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

They carefully tested and adjusted the model until it successfully predicted the outcome of experiments conducted on real leaves, including dynamic response to environmental variables. Then they programmed the model to randomly alter levels of individual enzymes in the photosynthetic process. They hunted for enzymes they could increase to enhance plant productivity. They identified several proteins that could, in higher concentration, greatly enhance productivity of the plant. They doubled the plant's efficiency by rearranging the way nitrogen is used in the photosynthetic proteins.

They said that evolution in plants is typically for survival, not necessarily for efficiency. Their findings are consistent with results from other researchers.

Urban vs. rural

New research published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons shows that urban colorectal and lung cancer patients seek help at later stages of disease than rural patients do.

"The proportion of urban patients presenting with metastatic cancer is alarming," said Dr. Ian Paquette of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. "This study highlights the need for better screening efforts for colorectal cancer and the need to develop an effective screening program for people at high risk for lung cancer."

The study included 161,479 lung cancer patients and 128,711 colorectal cancer patients from 2000 to 2003 whose records from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database were examined to determine whether they were urban or rural,.

Overall, they found that urban patients are presenting with later stages of colorectal and lung cancer, when controlling for other demographic factors associated with late presentation. Rural colorectal cancer patients were older and considerably poorer than urban patients, who in turn were considerably more apt to be language-isolated, black and divorced. Rural lung cancer patients were considerably poorer than urban patients and more likely to be men. Urban lung cancer patients had demographics equivalent to the urban colorectal patients. Although several factors including race, socioeconomic status, age and divorce had an influence on stage at presentation, rural residence was not shown to be an independent predictor of later-stage disease.

Cancer literacy

The American Cancer Society is offering a new book to help ease the frustration and anxiety that may come with breast cancer diagnosis. "Breast Cancer Clear and Simple" uses simple terms to help women know what to expect, what to do and how to make what can be an overwhelming, life-changing journey.

Leading breast cancer and health literacy experts worked together to explain the disease in an easy Q&A format. It also includes 10 valuable office-visit checklists to help patients record answers to more than 90 key questions on diagnosis, prognosis, surgery, second opinion and more.

The book sells for $14.95 and is available at www.cancer.org/bookstore or by calling 800-ACS-2345. It's also sold at retail book stores.