Columns

Dave Jackson. Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

Just as humans have competing impulses — should we eat or exercise, should we wait outside in the rain to meet a potential date or seek shelter, should we invest in a Spanish tutor or a lacrosse coach — so, too, do plants, albeit not through the same deliberate abstract process.

Working with corn, Dave Jackson, a professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, has discovered that the gene Gß, (pronounced Gee-Beta,) balances between the competing need to grow and to defend itself against myriad potential threats.

By looking at variations in the gene, Jackson and his postdoctoral fellows, including Qingyu Wu and Fang Xu, have found that some changes in Gß can lead to corn ears with more kernels. The results of this work, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, suggest that altering this gene may eventually increase the productivity of agricultural crops.

Indeed, the study of this gene included an analysis of why some mutations are lethal. An overactive Gß gene turns the corn brown and kills it. This occurs because the gene cranks up the immune system, causing the plant to attack itself.

Other scientists have found mutations in this gene in plants including arabodopsis and rice.

“We are the first to figure out why the mutations are lethal in corn,” Jackson said. “That’s also true in rice. Rice mutations were made over a decade ago and they also caused the plants to die. Nobody knew why. The main puzzle was solved.”

Dialing back this immune response, however, can encourage the plant to dedicate more resources to growth, although Jackson cautions that the research hasn’t reached the point where scientists or farmers could fine tune the balance between growth and defense.

“We are not there yet,” he said. “That’s what would be possible, based on this knowledge.”

Even in the safer environment of an agricultural field, however, plants can’t abandon all efforts at defense.

“Plants need some defense, but probably much less than if they were growing in the wild,” he said.

By altering the balance toward growth, Jackson is looking at mutations that make more stem cells, which can produce flowers and, eventually kernels. The next steps in this research will not likely include scientists in Jackson’s lab. Qingyu Wu plans to move on to a research position in China. 

Penelope Lindsay. Photo by Patricia Waldron

A prolific plant scientist and mentor, Jackson has seen several of his lab members leave CSHL to pursue other opportunities. Recently, he has added three new postdoctoral researchers to his team: Thu Tran, Jae Hyung Lee and Penelope Lindsay.

Jackson plans to use single-cell sequencing in his future research. Using this technique, scientists can find regulatory relationships between genes and monitor cell lineages in development. Jackson described this approach as an “amazing new technology” that’s only been around for a few years. He hopes to use this technique to find new leads into genes that control growth.

Lindsay, who is joining the lab this month, would like to build on her experience as a plant biologist by adding computational expertise. A graduate of the Boyce Thompson Institute in upstate Ithaca, where she was working on the symbiotic relationship between some plants and a specific type of fungi in the soil, Lindsay would also like to work on single-cell sequencing. She plans to continue to study “how specific genotypes produce a phenotype” or how its genes affect what it becomes.

Jackson’s lab’s focus on the undifferentiated cells of the meristem appealed to Lindsay.

Lindsay first met Jackson a few years ago, when he was giving a talk at Cornell University. It was there, fittingly enough, that she had learned about the work that led to the current paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about growth versus defense.

“I was really impressed with the techniques and with the connection to basic research,” Lindsay said. She was excited to learn how Jackson and his students took biochemical approaches to understand how this signaling pathway affected development.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory also intrigued Lindsay, who was interested to join a facility that encouraged collaborations among labs.

Born in New York City, Lindsay spent some of her time in upstate New York before moving to Florida, where she also attended college.

Surrounded by family members who have found outlets for their creativity through art — her mother, Michelle Cartaya, is an artist who takes nature photos and her father, Ned Lindsay, remodels homes — she initially attended New College of Florida in Sarasota expecting to pursue a degree in English. Once in college, however, she found excellent scientific mentors, who encouraged her to pursue research.

As a graduate student, Lindsay was greatly intrigued by the signaling pathway between plants and the symbiotic relationship with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. During her graduate work, she studied a mutated version of a plant that lacked a signaling protein that encourages this collaboration. When she added considerable amount of the protein to the plant, she expected to restore the symbiosis, but she found the exact opposite.

“The amount of the protein is critical,” she said. “If you have too much, that’s a bad thing. If you don’t have enough, it’s also bad. It’s like Goldilocks.”

A new resident of Huntington, Lindsay, who was a disc jockey for a community radio station in Ithaca and makes electronic music using synthesizers and computers, is looking forward to starting her work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and to living near New York City.

Lindsay continues to find plants fascinating because they “get everything they need” while living in one place their entire lives. “They have so many sophisticated biochemical pathways to protect themselves,” she said.

Huntington Hospital’s four midwives, from left, Laura Jabbour, Jessica Hilsenroth, Michele Mayer and Lindsay Price. Photo from Northwell Health

Huntington Hospital’s four midwives are now seeing patients at Northwell Health Physician Partners ob/gyn offices in Commack and Smithtown. 

Midwives Michele Mayer, Jessica Hilsenroth, Laura Jabbour and Lindsay Price have office hours at 777 Larkfield Road in Commack and 222 East Middle Country Road, Suite 114 in Smithtown. In addition, the midwives see patients at Huntington Hospital’s Women’s Center at 270 Park Ave. in Huntington.

“In response to patient requests, we have begun seeing women at these convenient offices to better serve the residents of Suffolk County,” said Mayer, supervisor of Huntington Hospital’s midwife practice. 

Midwives provide care to women from their first gynecologic visit through menopause with comprehensive prenatal care and natural childbirth; well woman exams; treatment of common gynecologic issues; and contraception consultation, initiation and surveillance.

To schedule an appointment with a Huntington Hospital midwife, please call 631-351-2415. 

For more information about the Northwell Health Physician Partners Obstetrics and Gynecology call 631-775-3290 (Smithtown office) or 631-470-8940 (Commack office).

Bailey

MEET BAILEY!

This week’s featured shelter pet is Bailey, a 5-year-old American bulldog mix rescued from a high kill shelter in Texas and currently waiting for his forever home at Kent Animal Shelter. 

A handsome playful dog, this sweet boy loves squeaky toys and long walks. Why not come by to meet him? He comes neutered, microchipped and is up to date on his vaccines. 

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on Bailey and other adoptable pets at Kent, call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com.

Stock photo

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

Champagne is a region in France about 90 miles northeast of Paris. Sparkling wines made there using the méthode champenoise (Champagne method) are called Champagne. 

Sparkling wines made in other regions of France regardless of how good they are cannot be called Champagne; they are known as crémant and vin mousseux (sparkling wine).

I attended a Wine Media Guild seminar/tasting of French Champagne (prestige cuvées) in December and here are my tasting notes.

NV G.H. Mumm “Blanc de Blancs” Hints of celery, bread dough and brioche. Crisp and clean.

NV Valentin Leflaive “Blanc de Blancs (extra brut)” Very dry with nuances of green apple, lime, violets and toasted bread.

Collet Collecion Privée” 2006 Hints of toasted bread, biscuits; full-flavored and delicious.

Boizel “Joyau de France” 2000 Fruity with flavors of peach and hazelnut; good finish.

Perrier-Jouët “Belle Epoque” 2012 Pear and green apple along with a nutty aftertaste.

Alfred Gratien “Cuvée Paradis” 2009 Hints of cider, red apple and baked bread. Well-balanced.

NV Delamotte “Blanc de Blancs” Light and crisp with citrus and chamomile flavors. Aftertaste of pears.

Piper-Heidsieck “Rare” 2006 Green apple, citrus and nuts. Lingering aftertaste.

Henriot “Cuvée Hemera” 2005 Darker color with overtones of brioche, pear and apple tart.

Palmer & Co. “Brut” (served in magnum) 2003 Granny Smith apple, citrus, curry and full of flavor.

Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” 2007 Crisp, clean tasting with considerable bubble; plenty of fruit.

Dom Ruinart “Blanc de Blancs” (served in magnum) 2004 Elegant with full chardonnay flavor; crisp, with a lasting finish.

Moët & Chandon “Dom Pérignon Rosé” 2006 Delicate and floral bouquet with overtones of black currants; persistent finish.

NV Laurent-Perrier “Grand Siècle” Honeyed, nutty aromas with hints of almonds and freshly baked brioche.

Charles Heidsieck “Blanc des Millènaires” 2004 Very dry; lively with citrus and brioche. Creamy aftertaste.

Pol Roger “Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill” 2006 Overtones of citrus, toasted brioche, pear and licorice.

Louis Roederer “Cristal” 2008 Citrusy bouquet with overtones of waffles, red apple and pears.

Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” 2008 Crisp, medium-bodied, elegant, floral and honeyed bouquet.

Bollinger “Grande Année” 2008 Apple tart, brioche, butter and nutty overtones. Long aftertaste.

NV Krug “Grande Cuvée 168th edition” Toasted bread, full-bodied, ginger, spices and a long and pleasing aftertaste.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

(Click on the photo to see the entire image)

NORTHERN LIGHT

Dawn Olenick of Baiting Hollow captured this cool sunset photo along Edwards Avenue in Calverton on Jan. 2. She writes, ‘Mother Nature sets the stage … I just push a button.

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

 

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File photo by Sara Megan-Walsh

As journalists, we share the frustrations of many residents in our communities who see the large number of empty storefronts — many left vacant for several years — while new developments seem to erupt out of the ground just a few feet away from derelict properties.

Imagine the grief felt by Huntington residents two years ago when Great Neck-based developer Villadom Corp. proposed construction of a 486,380-square-foot mall with retail and office space on the 50-acre property known as Elwood Orchard. Many residents feared overwhelming congestion on Route 25 and water quality issues. Meanwhile, empty buildings stood just to the east and west of the site.

Imagine the relief when the developer withdrew the application. Then think of the relief that Hauppauge residents felt last year when they saw a sign reading Relish restaurant, of Kings Park, was opening an additional location in the old Pizza Hut on Route 111. The blighted building had been vacant for decades.

Rows of vacant buildings spoil Port Jeff’s uptown vibe. The abandoned businesses along Lake Avenue in St. James and Main Street in Smithtown also point to serious problems. In Setauket, a former King Kullen still sits empty years after the chain closed those doors, and a decrepit building sits on the corner of Gnarled Hollow Road. Suffolk County was willing to buy the latter property with the Town of Brookhaven looking to maintain it as passive parkland. Some of these situations are examples of property owners holding out for more money. In which case, the only real victim is the community as a whole.

Elected officials need to ensure that these empty storefronts are filled to create vibrant shopping areas. It’s an important, even essential step to take to create stronger, cleaner and healthier communities. It also protects groundwater and can minimize roadway congestion.

Preserve that open space and fill the locations that are already set up for commerce first.

Local officials may be limited in how much they can dictate to developers but there are options. Take for example Decatur, Illinois, where the city recently hired a retail consultant to fill the vacant storefronts. Consultants or even town employees can be tasked in recruiting companies interested in entering the market. Businesses can be sold on the benefits of reconfiguration and renovation, rather than new construction.

Business owners can take responsibility, too, to maintain the quality of life in their neighborhoods where they do business. Recently, former Yankees star baseball player Mariano Rivera received an OK on a zoning change from the Town of Brookhaven to create a car dealership in Port Jefferson Station in an already developed space. While he plans to create one new additional building on site, he will expand on an existing one. The local civic and town board complimented him on his willingness to work with the local community. 

Many big businesses may come into an area focused on their branding, concerned with how their building needs to look, and insist on building from scratch in what they feel is an ideal location. We encourage elected officials to welcome businesses into structures that already exist. Quality of life should be considered first and foremost in our communities.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate was not the cause of Blue Monday this week. An idea first introduced to the world in a press release in 2005, Blue Monday was named the most depressing day of the year. Typically, the third Monday of January, but it can be the second or the fourth, Blue Monday is the confluence of several downers. We can certainly guess what they are.

For starters, there is the darkness and the weather. We are in the first full month after the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. That, combined with the traditionally coldest month, makes for a lot of storms, gloom and shut-ins. Even if we are fortunate, as we have been so far this year — there haven’t been so many storms — we know they are coming.

Then there are the holiday bills. This is when credit charges begin arriving, along with their urgency to be paid. We had a wonderful time, for the most part, during the celebratory days of December. Time to pay the piper.

Right around now is also when our New Year’s resolutions begin to fade. Reality sets in with an awareness of how truly hard it is to break bad habits. Easier to slip back into the old ways, especially as a treat during the awful weather.

As we look ahead into the new year, there are no big holidays to anticipate — nothing larger than St. Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday after all. And then there are the coming taxes. Property tax deadline has just passed, emptying our bank accounts but April 15 will be coming up faster than our savings might grow. Not all of us get refunds — quite the contrary.

So here are five things we can do to offset the alleged challenges of the season. They are proposed by a Buddhist monk in his book, “Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection,” and they speak to self-care. Haemin Sunim, who has taught Buddhism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, according to a recent article in The New York Times, goes beyond the obvious advice of exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep.

First, start by taking a deep breath. As we think about our breathing, it becomes deeper, giving us a sense of calm no matter what is happening around us.

Next comes acceptance “of ourselves, our feelings and of life’s imperfections.” When we struggle to overcome difficult emotions, the struggle intensifies. But if we start by accepting those emotions, allowing them to be there, the mind quiets.

Writing is a third suggestion from the monk. This one, of course, speaks to me. Write down what is troubling or what we need to do, then leave the load on paper and get a good sleep. The list will be there and help to direct our actions in the morning. I have found this therapeutic when I wake up in the middle of the night herding a multitude of thoughts. I keep a pen and pad on the bedside table and I offload the burdens. In the morning, if I can read my writing, I can usually figure out how to proceed.

Talking is also important. How do I know what I think until I have heard what I’ve said? Somehow talking out a situation makes it clearer. There has to be a totally nonjudgmental and trustworthy friend who will listen, of course.

Last on the top 5 is walking: “When you sit around thinking about upsetting things, it will not help you. If you start walking, our physical energy changes and rather than dwelling on that story, you can pay attention to nature — a tree trunk, a rock. You begin to see things more objectively, and oftentimes that stress within your body will be released,” the monk said.

Even if we have no issues at the moment, we certainly feel better after taking a walk.

Alyssa Nakken is the first female coach on a major league staff in baseball history.

By Daniel Dunaief

There may be no crying in baseball, as Tom Hanks famously said in the movie “A League of Their Own,” but there is, thanks to San Francisco Giants and Alyssa Nakken, now a woman in baseball.

Last week, for the first time in the 150-year history of the game, a woman joined the ranks of the coaches at Major League level.

The hiring of Nakken, 29, follows the addition of women in the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

While it may seem past time that America’s pastime caught up with the times, members of the Long Island athletic and softball communities welcomed the news.

“I hope that it becomes more of the norm rather than the exception,” said Shawn Heilbron, athletic director at Stony Brook University.

For Megan Bryant, who has been the head softball coach at Stony Brook since 2001 and has collected more than 870 career wins, Nakken’s new job creates a path that others can follow.

“For the Giants and Major League Baseball and women in sports careers, that’s a big deal and is a step forward,” Bryant said. “It will open other doors for other women.”

Bryant said teams can and should recognize the wealth of coaching talent among men and women.

“If you’re a great coach, it shouldn’t matter the gender of the athletes you’re coaching,” Bryant said. 

Lori Perez, who was an assistant softball coach at Sacramento State University when Nakken played and is now head coach, said the news gave her “goose bumps.”

The hardworking Nakken, a two-time captain at Sacramento State, once asked her coaches to stop a low-energy practice so the team could refocus and flush their negative energy, Perez said.

Nakken’s parents had “high expectations for her but, even better, she had high expectations for herself,” which included doing well academically and helping out in summer camps, Perez said.

Patrick Smith, athletic director at Smithtown school district, believes these first few female hires in men’s sports are a part of a leading edge of a new trend.

“We will see more and more [women joining professional sports teams] as time goes on,” Smith said. In Smithtown, women constitute greater than half of all the athletes at the high school level.

Among the six senior women on Stony Brook’s softball team, three members are considering a career in sports after they graduate, Bryant said.

While the Women’s College World Series softball games have drawn considerable fan attention, attendance at women’s college and professional sporting events typically lags that of men.

The Long Island community can provide their daughters with a chance to observe and learn from role models at the college and professional levels by attending and supporting local teams.

“It’s frustrating that the women’s games aren’t drawing close to what the men’s teams are,” said Heilbron. The Stony Brook women’s basketball team, which includes standout junior India Pagan among other talented players, is currently 18-1. This is the best start in program history.

“I hope people will come” support the team, Heilbron said. “If you come, we believe you’ll come back.”

As for women in high profile roles, Bryant, who is looking forward to the addition of six new players to her softball squad this year, believes each step is important on a longer journey toward equal opportunity.

“Whether it’s in sports, science or politics, we’re making strides,” Bryant said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Perez, who has two children, is thrilled that “women can dream of things they couldn’t dream of before,” thanks to Nakken and other female trailblazers inside and outside of the sports world.

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By Nancer Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

The new Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, effective Jan. 1, 2020, is the broadest piece of retirement legislation passed in 13 years. The law focuses on retirement planning in three areas: modifying required minimum distribution (RMD) rules for retirement plans, expanding retirement plan access and increasing lifetime income options in retirement plans. This article will focus on the modifications to the RMD rules and their effects on inherited individual retirement accounts. 

Before the SECURE Act, if you had money in a traditional IRA and were retired, you were required to start making withdrawals at age 70½. But for people who have not reached age 70½ by the end of 2019, the SECURE Act pushes RMD start date to age 72. By delaying the RMD start date, the SECURE Act gives your IRAs and 401(k)s additional time to grow without required distributions and the resulting income taxes.

Since RMDs will not start until age 72, the new law will give you an additional two years to do what are known as Roth IRA conversions without having to worry about the impact of required distributions. With a Roth IRA, unlike a traditional IRA, withdrawals are income tax-free if you meet certain requirements and there are no RMDs during your lifetime. The general goal of a Roth conversion is to convert taxable money in an IRA into a Roth IRA at lower tax rates today than you expect to pay in the future.

The SECURE Act also removed the so-called “stretch” provisions for beneficiaries of IRAs. In the past, if an IRA was left to a beneficiary, that person could stretch out the RMDs over his or her life expectancy, essentially “stretching” out the tax benefits of the retirement account. But with the SECURE Act, most IRA beneficiaries will now have to distribute their entire IRA account within 10 years of the year of death of the owner. 

There are, however, exceptions to the 10-year rule for the following beneficiaries: surviving spouse, children under the age of majority, disabled, chronically ill and an individual not more than 10 years younger than employee. 

The SECURE Act means it is now very important to review the beneficiary designations of your retirement accounts. You want to make sure they align with the new beneficiary rules. Prior to the SECURE Act, a spousal rollover was generally the best practice to preserve the IRA. For many with large retirement accounts, it may now be better to begin distributing the IRA earlier in order to minimize exposure to higher tax brackets. It may also be beneficial to name multiple beneficiaries on an IRA to spread the distributions to more taxpayers, so the 10-year rule has less of an impact on the beneficiary’s income tax bracket. 

Prior to the SECURE Act, many people used trusts as beneficiaries of retirement accounts with a “see-through” feature that let the beneficiary stretch out the tax benefits of the inherited IRA account. The benefit of the trust was to help manage the inherited IRA and to provide protection from creditors. 

However, many of these trusts provided the beneficiary with access to only the RMD. With the new rule that all money must be taken out within 10 years, these trusts no longer have the same effect and could be troublesome, requiring that significantly more money be distributed to the beneficiary annually than initially intended. In addition, the trust funds would likely be exhausted after 10 years rather than providing funds to the beneficiary over his or her remaining life expectancy. 

Anyone with a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA should immediately review the trust language with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if it still aligns with his or her intended goals. 

If you are not sure what the new SECURE Act means for your retirement account, you should also contact an experienced estate planning attorney to review your beneficiary designations. 

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Frank

MEET FRANK!

This week’s featured shelter pet is Frank, a 1½-year-old American fox hound who was surrendered to Kent Animal Shelter from Smithtown Hunt for being unable to be a hunting dog. Frank is super sweet, mellow and would make a great addition to a family! 

He comes neutered, microchipped and is up to date on his vaccines. Come visit Frank and fall in love. 

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on Frank and other adoptable pets at Kent, call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com

Photo from Kent Animal Shelter