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CBJ Report: Behavioral Diagnostics builds a better test

CBJ: Behavioral Diagnostics builds a better test

Behavioral Diagnostics builds a better test

Say a law firm wants to prove that a client who got in trouble due to behavior associated with alcoholism has given up the drink over the last five months in order to help him regain custody of his children. Or an insurance company, asked to underwrite a $10 million life insurance policy on a corporate CEO, wants to know if she's really given up smoking before deciding how to price the premiums.

Such high-stakes determinations could soon be made more reliably thanks to new tests introduced last week by Behavioral Diagnostics LLC of Coralville. The startup at the University of Iowa BioVentures Center has developed epigenetic testing technology that eliminates many of the limitations and vulnerabilities associated with existing tests for alcohol and tobacco use.

Smoke Signature and Alcohol Signature are the names of the tests unveiled at the Iowa Association for Justice Conference, held April 19-20 at the Coralville Marriott. They can be ordered online, performed using a single drop of blood and mailed in for processing at the company's headquarters.

The patented tests make use of the fact that alcohol and tobacco use can significantly modify DNA methylation - the modification of a gene in response to environmental stimuli such as substance intake without changing the DNA sequence.

Behavioral Diagnostics CEO Dr. Rob Philibert says that while other tests indicate short-term changes in behavior, the biosignatures measured by his company's tests register average intake over time and are virtually impossible to fake.

"The beauty of the test is, we give the results to your lawyers," Dr. Philibert said. "If it looks good, you show it to the judge. If not ... you talk to the judge."

The Smoke Signature and Alcohol Signature tests could replace technologies such as alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets that can be tricked, and expensive ignition interlock devices on vehicles that are used in adjudicating the roughly 1.4 million DUI cases in the United States each year, Dr. Philibert said.

Japan opens market to corn-based ethanol

Iowa farmers and ethanol producers are celebrating this week after word that Japan has agreed to open its markets to corn-based ethanol products.

The change comes as part of an update to the country's existing sustainability policy, approved in 2010, in which only sugarcane-based ethanol was eligible for import, and which only allowed sugarcane-based ethanol to be used for the production of ETBE, commonly used as an oxygenate in gasoline.

There is currently little to no sugarcane ethanol produced in the United States, however.

Japan will now allow U.S. ethanol to meet up to 44 percent of a total estimated demand of 217 million gallons of ethanol used to make ETBE, or potentially 95.5 million gallons of U.S.-produced ethanol annually. The country imports nearly all of the ETBE from ethanol that it uses.

If Japan imports 96 million gallons, it would make it the fourth-largest export market for U.S. producers behind Brazil, Canada and India, according to the U.S. Renewable Fuels Association.

Iowa is the nation's biofuels leader, and produced 4.2 billion gallons of ethanol and 286 million gallons of biodiesel in 2017, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. Japan is the state's third largest export destination, purchasing over $1 billion in Iowa-made/grown products in 2017, and the state's largest customer outside of NAFTA.

"Today is a great day for Iowa farmers and our state's renewable fuels industry," Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement released this morning. "With Japan opening its market to U.S. ethanol, Iowa can further expand our trade opportunities in that region of the world. Now, more than ever, ethanol production strengthens Iowa's ability to continue as an agricultural leader by giving farmers another market for their commodities."

Principal survey pinpoints why we postpone financial decisions

Seven in every 10 Americans postpone making financial decisions, according to new research by Principal Financial Group and reported by the Des Moines Business Record.

While the phenomenon is often attributed to not having enough money to save, the research shows that what's largely driving this procrastination isn't necessarily a lack of money; it's a lack of the right, confident mindset.

According to the findings, more than half of Americans (56 percent) have not made any major financial decisions, such as a large purchase, opening or closing an investment account, or moving money around in a retirement plan, in the past three years.

While 60 percent of people report their income as the top reason for inaction, the research shows that debt and current finances do not play a significant role in people's likelihood to make financial decisions. One in four (23 percent) households with a high income level always or regularly postpones making major financial decisions.

So what does explain this idle behavior? The research found that fewer than a third (30 percent) of Americans feel comfortable with the amount of knowledge they have about managing finances.

"With access to traditional pensions declining today, the onus of preparing for retirement continues to shift to the individual," said Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of retirement at Principal. "Features like employer-offered auto-enrollment and matching have aided those efforts, but this doesn't solve the problem of a lack of financial literacy and its implications on confidence."

"Fortunately, we now have more ways than ever to educate the world through a smart mix of human interaction and intuitive technology - things like virtual coaches and digital advice for individual investors."

Principal offers a Retirement Wellness Planner tool on its website, which can be accessed here.

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