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Researchers identify roots of childhood asthma – European Biotechnology

Infants who show defective immune responses to microbial components are more likely to acquire asthma later in childhood, according to a study of 541 children.

The discovery of a team headed by Hans Bisgaard at Gentofte Hospital in Gentofte, Denmark, reveals that childhood asthma is closely intertwined with the behaviour of the immune system early in life a finding that could open the door to new diagnostics and preventative strategies.

The immune system develops as immune cells begin to respond to different types of microbes from the environment. This early stage of development is critical: any persistent abnormalities can trigger chronic inflammation and may raise the risk of asthma and other allergic diseases.

To flesh out the connection between early-life immunity and asthma, first author Anna Thysen et al. studied a longitudinal cohort of 541 children, by analysing blood samples collected at 18 months and comparing these immune profiles to clinical outcomes at six years of age. The scientists exposed blood cells gathered from the 18 month olds to different molecules from viruses, bacteria and fungi. They observed that neutrophils of the innate immune system from some infants responded too strongly to certain viruses, and these same infants were more susceptible to transient asthma as they approached the age of six. Furthermore, some infants harboured T cells that produced excessive amounts of IL-5 and IL-13 two pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with asthma and were more likely to have developed persistent asthma at six years of age.

Thysenet al.speculate that future blood tests to detect abnormal immune signatures in infants might allow for earlier prevention or treatment of childhood asthma.

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Viewpoint: Biotechnology could save our favorite banana. Will anti-GMO activists stand in the way? – Genetic Literacy Project

In 1923,Frank Silver and Irving Cohn publisheda song that became a major hitfor the Billy Jones Orchestra, with thesignature line Yes, we have no bananas; we have no bananas today. It turned out to be sadly prophetic as, in the 1950s, the banana trees that supplied the entire global banana export business were wiped out by a soil-borne fungal diseaseknown asPanama Wilt.

The industry at that time was almost entirely based on a single banana cultivar called Gros Michel (meaning Big Mike), and it was susceptible to infection by a strain of fungus called Fusarium. Once the soil of a given plantation was contaminated with that strain, any Gros Michel tree grown there would soon die.

By good fortune, a different banana cultivar that was being grown in the South Seas was able to substitute for Gros Michel as a commercial line, and this new Cavendish cultivar became the new banana of international commerce, as it remains to this day. (Check out this interesting blog post about the history of the Cavendish variety and how it actually passed through a greenhouse in England in that process! And here is another good post about the history of this disease and the industry.)

Unfortunately, its about time for some band to cover Yes, We Have No Bananas because, evolution being what it is, a new strain of Fusarium Tropical Race 4 has arisen and it is lethal to the Cavendish. The disease is slowly making its way around the world, and since it can be spread in a particle of dirt on something like a boot, it will almost inevitably make it to the Central and South American growing regions that supply both North America and Europe with their bananas.

Although this unfortunate scenario has been on the minds of the banana industry for decades, it is now starting to get more attention in the mainstream press. One part of the story that has been shocking to these outside observers is that such a huge industry would ever be dependent on a single cultivar of banana. As Stephen Mihm put it for Bloomberg, this looming bananapocalypse is attributable to a vulnerability that comes from the practice of extreme monoculture.

While I understand why observers might be shocked that a nearly $12 billion industry depends almost exclusively on the Cavendish banana, I do want to push back on the implied conclusion that this represents some sort of irrational or irresponsible expression of big ag or whatever other demons are imagined by the Food Movement.

When you see something that is a standard practice in a very large, nationally diverse and multi-company business like bananas, I would suggest that it is appropriate to ask not what is wrong with this system but rather, What are the practical factors that drive this seemingly irrational practice?

Im not a banana expert, but in the mid-1990s, two of my first jobs as an independent consultant had to do with the banana industry. It was during the exciting early years of commercial plant biotechnology, and many industries were asking, What might this new technology do for our business? Both of my projects involved early-stage discussions between a major banana company and a plant biotech company four different entities in all. These were drawing board stage projects, with the goal of figuring out if certain ideas could ever make economic sense: Would they be something worth years of effort and millions of dollars for research?Still, overall, biotechnology looked like a way for this industry to tap into genetic diversity.

The fun part for me was getting to do a deep dive into the details of how bananas are grown, handled, shipped and marketed. I got to travel to Honduras, Costa Rica and Ecuador to tour banana plantations and interact with experts at the major banana export companies. As I said, Im not an industry insider, but I think I can shed some light on why there are not more kinds of bananas grown for export.

As modern consumers, we are offered an amazingly diverse selection of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, so it is important to think back to the early days of this offer of plenty. Having grownup in Denver in the 1960s, I can recall that, except for a few summer months, almost the only fresh fruit options at the grocery store were bananas, apples and oranges. I have a podcast aboutwhy apples were ever on that list. But if you think about it, the very fact that we can so easily enjoy fresh bananas in temperate regionsis a bit remarkable.

Bananas can grow only in regions where there is never frost, and they do best in truly tropical climates. How did a tropical fruit become a mainstream, reasonably priced, healthful, kid-popular fruit for people who experience winter?

In tropical regions, there is a great deal of genetic diversity among wild bananas and considerable diversity among the banana or plantain types that humans cultivate. However, very few of these bananas could ever meet the criteria needed to be a viable export crop.

First of all, a banana for export has to be seedless. Many wild bananas have large, very hard black seeds not something that has much consumer appeal. The bananas that people like are seedless because they have triploid genetics three of each chromosome vs. the two that we have. That is the same way we get seedless watermelons, grapes, etc. Its not some GMO thing; it happens at times in the plant kingdom, and we humans like it! Still, improving or changing the cultivar through conventional breeding isnt an option if it makes no seeds.

Next, the banana needs to be productive in terms of overall yield per tree or acre. Im sure no one in the 1920s was calculating it, but in modern sustainability thinking, the land-use efficiency of a crop is an important criterion. That, along with water-use efficiency, small carbon footprint and energy footprint,is all very much tied to good yield. The usable per-hectare yields of the Cavendish variety are quite high, and that is why it has been a both economically viable and environmentally sustainable choice for a long time.

But probably the most limiting requirement for a banana variety to be commercially acceptable is thatit has to be shippable. In the modern era, we have lots of transport options for food products, but during the era when the banana was becoming an item of international trade, the only viable option was ocean shipping. A product being moved from the tropics to North America or Europe needed a very-low-cost transport option if it was ever going to be a mainstream consumer product. Most fresh produce products loaded onto a ship for a two-plus-week trip to a northern port would be a soup of decay by the time they arrived.

What made the Gros Michel and its successor, the Cavendish, remarkable was that they could make that trip at a temperature range of 55-58 degrees Fahrenheit, and so not even require lots of energy for refrigeration. Very few of the wonderful range of cultivated or wild banana types could ever do that, but because the Cavendish can be shipped this way, the energy and carbon footprint ofits shipment is small. This crop has a very attractive food-miles profile.

In addition,it turns out that the conditions under which bananas grow can affect their shipping potential. There is a disease that infects only the leaves of banana plants called Black Sigatoka. If a banana tree has suffered too much of that infection, even the robust Cavendish variety wont be able to make the trip by sea. One thing I learned on my tour was that plantations have employees whose whole job is to survey the plantation on a tree-by-tree basis in order to qualify the fruit for shipment based on how well that disease has been managed.

But it gets even more complicated than that (heres a good video summary of the process). Bananas are picked in Central and South America at a green stage imagine a fruit more completely green than the greenest one youve ever seen in the clusters in your store. When they get to their destination, they are put into ripening rooms, where they are exposed to ethylene gas to start them on the way to the ripe yellow fruit you know. Before you freak out, know that ethylene is the fully natural plant hormone that induces ripening in most fruits and vegetables.

There is a definite art to this ripening process, and highly valued experts who can assess each shipment of bananas know just how to handle them in the ripening rooms to achieve the goal of delivering just right bananas at retail. This process has to factor in issues like ups and downs in demand and turnover rates at key retail customer outlets, in addition to the condition of the incoming fruit.

I know that at the stores where I shop, I can consistently buy bananas that are close to ripe but not fully, such that I can hope to consume them all before they turn black. We consumers might think we have a balancing act to do when it comes to timing ripening and consumption of the bananas from our counters, but imagine that on a huge scale for the banana distribution chain.

There is one more critical element of the business model: Those ships that come to our ports loaded with bananas certainly cant go back empty. The banana shipping companies are also seriously involved in their back-haul business of bringing back products of interest in the source countries. Having a well-understood, predictable crop helps with running that business efficiently as well.

So for the international banana business to work in a way that provides a relatively low-cost product acceptable to consumers, it needs to be able to function in a reliable and predictable fashion. Figuring out how to do this with a new banana variety would be a huge challenge. How do you grow it efficiently? Can the crop make the trip reliably? How can its ripeness be managed in order to meet both the distribution chain requirements and the needs of consumers for decent counter life? Will all of this work in a way that is compatible with a viable back-haul business?

So while it is easy to think that the banana industry is crazy to depend on one cultivar, Isubmit to you thatit is not without reasonand it implies noirresponsibility.

So does that just mean that we are inevitably going to live out the unintended prophecy of yes, we have no bananas? I think that depends on whether we continue to live in a world where anti-biotechnology groups are able to exercise the control that they currently have over our food system.

Let me explain. Remember that my introduction to bananas was based on excitement about what biotechnology could do for the crop. One of the concepts was to develop bananas that were resistant to that leaf infection disease that can compromise ship-ability. Control of that disease requires something like 40 fungicide sprays a year, so as you can imagine, there would be a huge cost savings if the trees could be made resistant.

The other concept on the table was modifying the banana so that it would stay in that nice yellow, but not yet black, stage longer on the consumers counter. Ill never forget that in the first meeting about that idea, a participant who worked for a UK-based banana importer said in his very British accent: Why would you want to do that? Dont you know that the dustbin is a major consumer of bananas? Obviously, he wasnt attuned to current sensitivity to the need for food waste reduction. I thought it was cool that a banana company was serious about an idea that might reduce food waste, with the hope that it would make consumers more comfortable about buying even more bananas.

Well, these were just theoretical ideas at the time, and they didnt go anywhere because it soon became evident that the anti-GMO forces were quite successful at putting brand-sensitive companies in an untenable spot if they were using GMO crops not just for generic ingredients but for brand-central crops.A dramatic examplewas how fast-food chains like McDonalds moved to avoid biotech potatoes for their signature fries.

It quickly became clear to the banana companies that their brands and their retail store access could be compromised if they pursued GMO options. The irony here is that this would have been the most viable strategy with which to bring genetic diversity into the logical but extreme monoculture of bananas.

Sothe irony is that if the yes, we have no bananas scenario becomes a reality, it will be because we as a global society didnt use a safe, viable, scientifically sound strategy torationally deal with the problem in the banana crop.

Public institution scientists in Australiaand entrepreneurial scientists in Latin America have come up with ways to modify commercially relevant bananas to resist the Fusarium disease. Ideally, there would be the potential to use several approaches, either in the same banana or in different fields; that wouldavoid delay selection for resistance and avoid yet another dependency on a single line. It is likely that the heritage variety Gros Michel could be made commercially viable once again!

If the Fusarium-resistant biotech bananas were introduced, activists would almost certainly attack them as GMO.Would any of the big banana companies have the guts to move forward with the technology in spite of the inevitable brand attacks by NGOs?Would any big food retailers be willing to resist the inevitable pressures not to stock that fruit? That retail blockage strategy is being used today against other new biotech offerings such asnon-browning applesandpotatoesandfast-growing, terrestrially raised salmon.

At one level, this is a question about what will be available for us as consumers. Will we continue to have this highly consumed, reasonably priced, child-friendly, healthy food option? Maybe not. But there is another big question.

One thing I witnessed on those visits to the banana industry back in the 90s was that large communities in Central and South America flourish because of the jobs that this industry creates. We in the rich world will still have lots of other fruit choices if the stores have no bananas, but that flexibility isnt there for the familiesthat have been doing the work to provide us with this staple food option for so many decades.

I would think that most activists are the kind of people who care about the availability of healthy, low-cost fruit options; I doubt that they would want to see the banana-producing communities impoverished. However, if the current paradigm of anti-GMO intimidation of fruit companies and retailers continues, that is where we are headed.

A version of this story originally ran on the GLP on April 16, 2018.

Steve Savage is a plant pathologist and senior contributor to the GLP. His Pop Agriculture podcast is available for listening or subscription on iTunes and Google Podcasts. Follow him on Twitter @grapedoc

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Industry Analysis: Should You Buy Esperion Therapeutics Inc (ESPR) in Biotechnology? – InvestorsObserver

The 66 rating InvestorsObserver gives to Esperion Therapeutics Inc (ESPR) stock puts it near the top of the Biotechnology industry. In addition to scoring higher than 85 percent of stocks in the Biotechnology industry, ESPRs 66 overall rating means the stock scores better than 66 percent of all stocks.

Click Here to get the full Stock Score Report on Esperion Therapeutics Inc (ESPR) Stock.

Finding the best stocks can be tricky. It isnt easy to compare companies across industries. Even companies that have relatively similar businesses can be tricky to compare sometimes. InvestorsObservers tools allow a top-down approach that lets you pick a metric, find the top sector and industry and then find the top stocks in that sector.

Our proprietary scoring system captures technical factors, fundamental analysis and the opinions of analysts on Wall Street. This makes InvestorsObservers overall rating a great way to get started, regardless of your investing style. Percentile-ranked scores are also easy to understand. A score of 100 is the top and a 0 is the bottom. Theres no need to try to remember what is good for a bunch of complicated ratios, just pay attention to which numbers are the highest.

Esperion Therapeutics Inc (ESPR) stock has gained 7.95% while the S&P 500 has fallen -0.25% as of 11:33 AM on Friday, Feb 7. ESPR has gained $4.61 from the previous closing price of $57.98 on volume of 444,201 shares. Over the past year the S&P 500 is higher by 23.33% while ESPR has gained 38.57%. ESPR lost -$3.69 per share the over the last 12 months.

To see the top 5 stocks in Biotechnology click here.

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Read This Before Judging Avecho Biotechnology Limiteds (ASX:AVE) ROE – Simply Wall St

While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, well use ROE to better understand Avecho Biotechnology Limited (ASX:AVE).

Over the last twelve months Avecho Biotechnology has recorded a ROE of 2.5%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each A$1 of shareholders equity it has, the company made A$0.03 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Avecho Biotechnology

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) Shareholders Equity

Or for Avecho Biotechnology:

2.5% = AU$158k AU$6.2m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders equity is a little more complicated. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders equity is to subtract the companys total liabilities from the total assets.

Return on Equity measures a companys profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The return is the profit over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Avecho Biotechnology has a lower ROE than the average (7.7%) in the Pharmaceuticals industry.

That certainly isnt ideal. Wed prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

Most companies need money from somewhere to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Avecho Biotechnology is free of net debt, which is a positive for shareholders. Without a doubt it has a fairly low ROE, but that isnt so bad when you consider it has no debt. At the end of the day, when a company has zero debt, it is in a better position to take future growth opportunities.

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth and how much investment is required going forward. Check the past profit growth by Avecho Biotechnology by looking at this visualization of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.

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Read This Before Judging Avecho Biotechnology Limiteds (ASX:AVE) ROE - Simply Wall St

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Here’s Why Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Vir Biotechnology Shares Have Fallen Today – Motley Fool

What happened

Shares of Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) and Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ:VIR), two companies developing drugs for the coronavirus outbreak in China, are down today on word that Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) looks to have beaten the companies to the punch, setting up a research collaboration with Chinese authorities to run a clinical trial for its antiviral medication remdesivir.

As of 1:46 p.m. EST on Monday, Inovio had fallen 14.5%, while Vir was down 16.2%.

Image source: Getty Images.

While the news that Gilead has moved first is disappointing for the biotechs, there may still be a need for Inovio's 2019-nCoV coronavirus vaccine. Remdesivir might lessen the symptoms of the virus, but it won't stop the spread of the disease in mildly symptomatic patients who aren't likely to take the drug.

Vir's antibody treatment would likely compete more directly with remdesivir since it would attack the virus directly and would likely be used to treat infected patients.

Both Inovio and Vir increased in value quite a bit in January. Vir doubled, while Inovio was up almost 40% as the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak has spread and investors pinned hopes on the potential to develop drugs for the virus. With the valuations already incorporating some of the potential, it's not surprising to see a pullback on news that the opportunity might not be as large as first imagined.

The bigger issue for Inovio and Vir is how long the clinical trial process could end up taking and whether the outbreak will peter out before the companies can get their treatments to market.

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Improving food production with agricultural technology and plant biotechnology – The John Innes Centre

Learn how to address challenges in growing, harvesting, and processingfood and build your knowledge of food production challenges and technology with this FutureLearn online course for 16-19 year olds studyingbiology.

Are you inspired to join the next generation of scientists and tackle challenges in food security?

On this course, you will get access to innovative research solutions that address some of the biggest issues in food, agriculture, and plant biotechnology.

You will become more familiar with the journey plants take, from crops in the field to food on your plate. You will explore the importance of scientific research in food security and discover the new technologies that are transforming agriculture.

The course starts on 2 March 2020 and mentors will be online to interact with learners until 22 March 2020. Participants will be able to join the course up until 4 May 2020.

By the end of the course, youll be able to

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