At the Arboretum, a scientific swerve

first_imgIf you look, you will find … something.That’s a lesson Hannah Zurier ’17 learned after she approached Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany Donald Pfister a couple of years ago about a research project.Zurier had a passion for science and an interest in cooking. She wondered whether Pfister, an expert in fungal biology who was then serving as interim dean of Harvard College, might help her develop a project that blended the two through exploration of the famed white truffle fungus.But instead of finding something to eat, Zurier found something nobody had seen before — the truffle of a related but mysterious species. Working under the guidance of postdoctoral fellow Rosanne Healy, Zurier described the fungus fully to science for the first time and helped give it a name, Tuber arnoldianum, after the site of its discovery, Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum.The new truffle, turns out, is native and relatively common, found on four of the 13 trees the researchers examined. The pair concluded that T. arnoldianum, far from being shy and retiring, is the dominant species among the trees they sampled. The research describing it, which came out in June in the journal Mycorrhiza, called it an “aggressive colonizer.”“It was really cool to find this species that was everywhere but no one had found it before,” Zurier said. “I started the summer on one truffle and wound up on a completely different project. That’s the way science works.”Even an aggressive fungus can be hard to notice. Truffles exist symbiotically with tree roots, exchanging nutrients that the truffle fungus pulls in from the soil for carbohydrates provided by the tree.In addition, as with all soil fungi, the fungus’ main body isn’t the truffle itself. The truffle is what scientists call a “fruiting body” — the equivalent of an apple on an apple tree — that comes and goes while the main fungal body, made up of a network of tiny threads called hyphae, carries on year-round like the apple tree.Along with making them hard to detect, truffles’ subterranean nature helps create their prized flavor and scent, which are attractive to animals such as the pigs used to hunt culinary truffles in Southern Europe. From the truffle’s standpoint, it’s advantageous to have an animal dig it up and spread the spores.The Arboretum discovery came after Pfister assigned Zurier to work with Healy, who was searching the Arboretum for white truffles, the most highly prized — and expensive — of the culinary truffles. A 2½-pound white truffle sold in 2010 for more than $400,000.Healy was following up on white truffle DNA discovered during soil comparisons at the Arboretum and at Harvard Forest. Since the white truffle is native to Europe and hard to cultivate elsewhere, Healy wanted to know more about that DNA, found on a native red oak tree in the Arboretum, and where it might have come from. She focused on a group of Arboretum trees that had been imported from Europe before 1921, when the U.S. government banned importation of trees bundled with soil in an effort to curb imported pests and diseases.The search turned up eight truffle species, including the new one. Though the researchers were the first to find the new truffle fungus’ fruiting body, there had been an earlier indication that it existed. Its DNA was detected in an environmental soil screen, but with no more evidence it could not be fully described and was dubbed “Tuber species 46.” That left it to Zurier and Healy to do the painstaking work of description.“We’ll do the phylogeny,” Pfister said of species detected only through DNA found in the environment, but “we won’t have the slightest idea what it looks like.”The project provides several lessons, Pfister said. One is that research can be a valuable part of the undergraduate experience at Harvard. While Zurier’s chance to describe a new species is unusual, students can have rewarding experiences working on subjects that interest them, and they don’t have to do so solely within the confines of a class or in preparation for a senior honors thesis, he said.“We want our students to reach out and find a project that catches their eye and their passion,” Pfister said. “It’s much more important to find something you want to work on and investigate. Forget about whether it ends up as a thesis and an honors grade.”Another lesson is the value of environmental sampling, a practice enabled in recent years by advances in DNA technology. Rather than targeting a single species at a time for sampling, scientists today can sample the environment itself (in this case the soil around a tree), extract all the DNA associated with it, and then determine how many different species are active there.Zurier, who worked on the project through the summer of 2014 and into that fall, said she particularly enjoyed what she described as the “treasure hunt” portion of the project, searching for truffle fungi on the trees. Still, more time was spent in the laboratory, carefully examining different parts of the new truffle fungus, from the truffle body itself to the hyphae to the tiny spores — dimpled and spiked — that the truffle disperses.An additional benefit of the project, Zurier said, was exploring the 281-acre Arboretum, in Jamaica Plain.“I got to see how awesome it is. It’s really beautiful.”last_img read more

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ABN Amro scheme targets emerging market debt, catastrophe bonds

first_imgThe pension fund has introduced a dynamic investment policy based on nominal interest rates and coverage ratio, scaling back its return portfolio when funding hits 140%.Its matching portfolio is set within a bandwidth, ranging from a minimum of 40%, when 20-year interest rates are negative, to 85%, when 20-year rates are more than 4%.The pension fund has set upper and lower limits on portfolio adjustments, to avoid having to make transactions – and incur trading costs – on limited market movements.As of the end of 2015, its entire interest hedge – also including liquid assets and government bonds – covered 64% of the interest risk on its liabilities.The scheme fully hedged the currency risk on developed market equities.It acknowledged it had failed to grant indexation, as the consumer index had been at zero, adding that its financial position had been too weak to pay any inflation compensation in arrears.As of the end of May, the scheme’s day-to-day funding stood at 114%.The ABN Amro Pensioenfonds has 97,500 participants in total, of whom 19,800 are workers and 25,625 are pensioners. ABN Amro’s €23.5bn pension fund in the Netherlands has started investing in catastrophe bonds and emerging market debt in a bid to further diversify its investment portfolio.According to its 2015 annual report, the scheme is looking to increase its 0.9% allocation to insurance-linked securities to 5%, and its 4.2% allocation to emerging market debt to 10%. The ABN Amro Pensioenfonds reported an overall annual return of 1.7% for 2015, with its return portfolio generating 4.4%, due chiefly to the rebound in equity markets.By contrast, it lost 1.6% on its matching portfolio, due largely to rising interest rates.last_img read more

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LeEco Le 1S no longer Flipkart-exclusive, to be available in offline stores

first_imgChinese entertainment conglomerate LeEco on Tuesday broke its exclusivity with Flipkart and announced that it will sell the budget phone Le 1S via offline channels in India. The move is part of the company’s ambitious expansion plans in the country.The Le 1S will be available for buying from physical retail stores in Delhi and Mumbai to begin with. LeEco further plans to cover up to 70% retail stores across India, by the end of September 2016, it said in a statement.”We have fast-tracked our growth trajectory in India and our entry into the physical retail space affirms it. Since our India launch, we’re thrilled to have seen an incredible response from users and this landmark announcement is a step ahead in making our Superphones more accessible to our users. In the near future, also plan to have our own wholly owned retail stores across the country,” Atul Jain, COO, Smart Electronics Business, LeEco India said.LeEco entered into the Indian smartphone scene in January this year. It has since launched three smartphones here — the Le 1S, the Le Max and quite recently the Le 1S Eco. It has already brought its video-on-demand service in partnership with Yupp TV and Eros Now to the country. The company is scheduled to launch at least two new phones come June 8. One of them could be the successor to the Le 1S, aka the Le 2.Also Read: LeEco aka Netflix of China now wants to take over your homeFor a phone that is priced around the Rs 10,000 price point, the LeEco Le 1S has an interesting spec sheet. It has a 5.5-inch FullHD IPS screen and a 2.2GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio X10 processor coupled with 3 gigs of RAM and 32GB of internal storage under the hood.advertisementThe Le 1S sports a 13-megapixel camera on the rear with phase detection autofocus and LED flash along with a 5-megapixel camera on the front.The all-metal smartphone also boasts of a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner.last_img read more

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