Guam’s most endangered tree species reveals universal biological concept

Guam's most endangered tree species reveals universal biological concept
University of Guam Research Associate Benjamin Deloso examines a bi-pinnately compound leaf of Guam’s flame tree. The endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree makes a leaf that uses this same design. Credit: University of Guam

Newly published research carried out at the University of Guam has used a critically endangered species to show how trees modify leaf function to best exploit prevailing light conditions. The findings revealed numerous leaf traits that change depending on the light levels during leaf construction.

“The list of ways a leaf can modify its shape and structure is lengthy, and past research has not adequately looked at that entire list,” said Benjamin Deloso, lead author of the study. The results appear in the October issue of the journal Biology.

Terrestrial plants are unable to move after they find their permanent home, so they employ methods to maximize their growth potential under prevailing conditions by modifying their structure and behavior. The environmental factor that has been most studied in this line of botany research is the availability of light, as many trees begin their life in deep shade but eventually grow tall to position their leaves in full sun when they are old. These changes in prevailing light require the tree to modify the manner in which their leaves are constructed to capitalize on the light that is available at the time of leaf construction.

“One size does not fit all,” Deloso said. “A leaf designed to perform in deep shade would try to use every bit of the limited light energy, but a leaf grown under full sun needs to refrain from being damaged by excessive energy.”

The research team used Guam’s critically endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree as the model species because of the complexity of its leaf design. This tree’s leaf is classified as a bi-pinnate compound leaf, a designation that means a single leaf is comprised of many smaller leaflets that are arranged on linear structures that have a stem-like appearance. The primary outcome of the work was to show that this type of leaf modifies many whole-leaf traits in response to prevailing light conditions. Most literature on this subject has not completely considered many of these whole-leaf traits, and may have under-estimated the diversity of skills that compound leaves can benefit from while achieving the greatest growth potential.

This study provides an example of how plant species that are federally listed as endangered can be exploited for non-destructive research, helping to highlight the value of conserving the world’s threatened biodiversity while demonstrating a universal concept.

The study was a continuation of several years of research at the University of Guam designed to understand the ecology of the species. The research program has identified recruitment as the greatest limitation of species survival. Recruitment is what botanists use to describe the transition of seedlings into larger juvenile plants that are better able to remain viable. Considerable seed germination and seedling establishment occur in Guam’s habitat, but 100% of the seedlings die. Extreme shade is one

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The pandemic is encouraging tests of universal basic income and job guarantees

Christine Jardine, a Scottish politician who represents Edinburgh in the UK parliament, was not a fan of universal basic income before the pandemic hit.

a dining table: Empty tables and chairs stand in front of a restaurant in Berlin. Germany is under partial lockdown in November.

© Paul Zinken/picture alliance/Getty Images
Empty tables and chairs stand in front of a restaurant in Berlin. Germany is under partial lockdown in November.

“It was regarded in some quarters as a kind of socialist idea,” said Jardine, a member of the centrist Liberal Democrats party.

But not long after the government shut schools, shops, restaurants and pubs in March with little warning, she started to reconsider her position.

“Covid-19 has been [a] game changer,” Jardine said. “It has meant that we’ve seen the suggestion of a universal basic income in a completely different light.” In her view, the idea — sending cash regularly to all residents, no strings attached — now looks more “pragmatic” than outlandish.

a person wearing a blue shirt: Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London.

© Aaron Chown/PA Images/Getty Images
Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London.

She isn’t the only one to change her mind. As the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus drags on, support in Europe is growing for progressive policies once seen as pipe dreams of the political left.

In Germany, millions of people applied to join a study of universal basic income that will provide participants with €1,200 ($1,423) a month, while in the United Kingdom, more than 100 lawmakers — including Jardine — are pushing the government to start similar trials.

Austria, meanwhile, has launched a first-of-its-kind pilot program that will guarantee paying jobs to residents struggling with sustained unemployment in Marienthal, a long-suffering former industrial town about 40 miles southwest of Vienna.

Whether the spike in popularity and research will translate into a wave of action is an open question. But some, like Jardine, see reason for optimism.

The crisis catalyst

Throughout history, times of crisis have produced large changes in the role government plays in our lives. Out of the Great Depression came former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s plan to distribute social security checks in the United States, for example, while the foundations of universal health care in Britain were laid during World War II.

Experts see the coronavirus pandemic as a world-changing event that could result in a similar tectonic shift.

“Big political changes generally do follow big upheaval events,” said Daniel Nettle, a behavioral scientist at Newcastle University.

Universal basic income, in its purest form, means giving money to everyone, regardless of how much they earn, so they can have greater freedom to move between jobs, train for new positions, provide care or engage in creative pursuits. Interest in the concept has risen in recent years, driven by concerns that automation and the climate crisis would lead to a mass displacement of workers.

Job insecurity caused by the pandemic, however, appears to have generated new levels of support for the policy. One study conducted by Oxford University in March found that 71% of Europeans now favor the introduction of a universal basic income.

“For an idea that

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TFF Pharmaceuticals Announces Positive Preclinical Results with University of Georgia Universal Influenza Vaccines

Company’s Thin Film Freezing dry powder was equivalent to the liquid universal influenza formulated vaccine in preclinical immunogenicity and efficacy testing

TFF Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: TFFP), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing innovative drug products based on its patented Thin Film Freezing (TFF) technology platform, today announced that in collaboration with the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Center for Vaccines and Immunology (CVI) obtained positive preclinical immunogenicity and efficacy data from TFF formulated UGA universal Influenza hemagglutinin (HA) recombinant vaccines.

In April of 2020, TFFP and the University of Georgia’s CVI entered into a Research and Development Agreement to test the immunogenicity and efficacy of universal influenza HA recombinant vaccines following the TFF process. Animals were vaccinated with HA vaccines with or without adjuvants and challenged with H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses. The TFF HA vaccines elicited equivalent neutralizing antibodies and protection against influenza virus infection compared to liquid formulations. Currently, the level of neutralizing antibodies and amount of virus in the lung are being analyzed, in addition to long term stability testing of the TFF HA vaccine.

Researchers in the University of Georgia’s CVI are world-leaders in vaccine development. In 2019, the National Institutes of Health awarded UGA researchers up to $130 million to develop a new universal flu vaccine designed to protect against multiple strains of influenza virus in a single dose.

Influenza is a contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system infecting the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza results in tens of thousands of deaths annually in the US since 2010 and hundreds of thousands of deaths globally.

“Based on these results, we believe the TFF process and resulting dry powder allows protein vaccines to be more stable and long-lasting than in liquid solution, therefore improving stability and removing logistical cold chain challenges,” said Glenn Mattes, CEO of TFF Pharmaceuticals. “Unfortunately, there is a significant financial burden considering that cold-chain storage alone accounts for most of the vaccination cost. There is an urgent need to develop technologies that would eliminate the cold-chain and allow for better drug delivery options.”

“Our goal is to identify vaccines that are broadly protective against most variants of the influenza virus that infect humans, particularly for those populations that are most vulnerable and susceptible to the virus,” said Ted M. Ross, Director of the University of Georgia Center for Vaccines and Immunology. “Hand-in-hand with that goal is to develop a delivery mechanism that can make the vaccine easier to ship, store and administer to this population around the globe. The results observed with Thin Film Freezing converting our liquid influenza HA vaccine to a dry powder can bring us closer to achieving this goal.”

TFF Pharmaceuticals’ testing suggests that Thin Film Freezing maintains a potential vaccine’s particle size distribution and immunogenicity, is robust for extended periods at room temperature, withstands unintentional freezing, and can be stored and shipped free of cold-chain handling, displays extended

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