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Research Roundup: Rice and arsenic, microaggressions in medicine and frog cytoplasm reorganizing

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Oct. 27 – Nov. 2.

Future climate change conditions negatively affect rice crops

Climate change conditions will negatively affect rice growth and production, Stanford researchers determined in a study published on Nov. 1 in the journal Nature Communications. Rice yields will decrease by 40 percent by 2100 and will contain twice as much arsenic as rice today.

“By the time we get to 2100, we’re estimated to have approximately 10 billion people, so that would mean we have 5 billion people dependent on rice, and 2 billion who would not have access to the calories they would normally need,” Scott Fendort, professor of Earth system science, told Stanford News. “We have to be aware of these challenges that are coming so we can be ready to adapt.”

As climate change progresses, temperatures will increase, causing soil changes and more frequent floods, which loosens the arsenic present in the soil. As a result, rice plants will uptake more arsenic as they grow in flooded water conditions.

The findings are most concerning as chronic exposure to arsenic can lead to disastrous health effects, including skin lesions, cancer, lung disease and death. Additionally, rice is a staple crop regularly fed to infants, and infants consuming higher levels of the toxin can lead to health consequences.

“The good news is that given past advances in terms of the global community’s ability to breed varieties that can adapt to new conditions, along with revisions to soil management, I’m optimistic we can get around the problems observed in our study,” Fendorf told Stanford News. “I’m also optimistic that as we continue to shine a light on the threats resulting from a 5 degree Celsius change, society will adopt practices to ensure we never reach that degree of warming.”

Microaggressions in the hospital workplace 

Women in medicine experience more microaggressions compared to men, a study published on Oct. 29 in Academic Medicine found. This collaborative study between Stanford, Harvard, Rochester and the Medical University of South Carolina led the initiative to investigate gender-based microaggressions in medicine.

“Women doctors are leaving the field of medicine in disturbing numbers, and it’s not exactly clear why,” VJ Periyakoil, associate professor of medicine, told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE. “Four out of 10 go part-time or leave medicine altogether within six years of completing their training.”

The research findings indicated women medical faculty reported a higher rate of experiencing microaggressions. The study found microaggression examples included sexism, pregnancy and childcare-related bias, underestimated abilities, encountering sexually inappropriate comments, being assigned mundane tasks and feeling excluded or marginalized.

“Today, the number of women are equal to the number to men when they enter medical school, but there are far fewer women faculty than men or women in leadership positions,” Periyakoil told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE. “Women keep jumping off the train. Why is this? I think we might be ignoring a subtle environmental toxin that stifles women in the workplace.”

Cytoplasm of frog eggs reorganize after scrambling

The cytoplasm in frog eggs can reorganize themselves to cell-like components even after scrambling, a study published on Nov. 1 in Science found. After reorganizing, the cytoplasm from Xenopus can still exhibit properties such as division into smaller components.

“We were gobsmacked,” James Ferrell, professor of chemical and systems biology and biochemistry, told Stanford Medicine News. “If you blend a computer, you’d end up with tiny bits of computer, and they wouldn’t even be able to add two and two. But, lo and behold, the cytoplasm reorganizes.”

This is the first study that observed the self-reorganization at the level and complexity of whole cells. The researchers found that several key components were required for scrambled cytoplasm to reorganize, including ATP, microtubules and dynein.

The Stanford researchers explained that this finding opens up new doors in the field of Xenopus research. They hope to better understand how this phenomenon plays a role in Xenopus normal physiology.

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.