News & Updates

Extreme temperatures threaten desert songbirds with death by dehydration

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According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on historical record. Globally, the increase amounted to nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. And while that might not sound like much of an increase, it could mean the difference between life and death for some bird populations.

Heat waves due to climate change pose an increasing threat to wildlife in many regions of the world. During heat waves, birds are especially at risk of lethal dehydration due to scarce water resources and high rates of evaporative water loss needed for cooling their bodies. High environmental temperatures were attributed to recent mass die-offs of wild birds and poultry in Australia, South Africa, India and North America suggest that birds are sensitive to extreme heat events.

With climate projections forecasting a large increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, researchers including Tom Albright, associate professor from the Geography Department at the University of Nevada-Reno, Professor Blair Wolf from The University of New Mexico Department of Biology, and Alexander Gerson, assistant professor, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and others mapped the potential effects of current and future heat waves on the risk of lethal dehydration for songbirds in the southwestern United States.

The research, “Mapping evaporative water loss in desert passerines reveals an expanding threat of lethal hydration,” was published today in PNAS. The research was funded through a three-year, $650,000 National Science Foundation grant. NASA also funded aspects of this research, and its data and products played a role in enabling the research.

Birds are susceptible to heat stress in two ways,” explained Wolf. “When it’s really hot, they simply can’t evaporate enough water to stay cool, overheat and die of heat stroke. In other cases the high rates of evaporative water loss needed to stay cool deplete their body water pools to lethal levels and birds die of dehydration; this is the stressor we focused on in this study."

This is a neat example of the kind of science enabled by two of our great U.S. science agencies: NSF (Blair’s team) and NASA (Albright’s team): basically mapping what you might call physiological performance and ultimately mapping the dynamics of risk,” said Albright.

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NIH consortium takes aim at vascular disease-linked cognitive impairment and dementia

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To better predict, study, and diagnose small vessel disease in the brain and its role in vascular contributions to cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID), the National Institutes of Health has launched MarkVCID, a consortium designed to accelerate the development of new and existing biomarkers for small vessel VCID.

The five-year program, developed by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), in collaboration with the National Institute on Aging (NIA), consists of seven research groups across the United States working together via a coordinating center based at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. A kick-off meeting for the consortium was held immediately prior to the International Stroke Conference 2017 in Houston, Feb. 20-21.

Steven M. Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Hemorrhagic Stroke Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital will serve as the project leader for the MarkVCID Coordinating Center.

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'I feel for you' -- Some really do

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When a student in a University of Delaware study watched a video of someone else’s hand being touched, she felt the touch on her own hand. While that may seem a little eerie to most of us, she’s not alone. About two in 100 people have this condition called mirror-touch synesthesia, or MTS.

In an article published in Cortex, UD researchers reveal new information about MTS based on one of the largest studies of its kind. The subject pool was more than 2,000 undergrads from multiple sections of an introductory psychology course who volunteered as research participants over the past few years.

Some of the students in our study didn’t know that what they were experiencing was different from the rest of the population, and it blew their minds,” says Jared Medina, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “But if you have mirror-touch synesthesia, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just an interesting difference, like being double-jointed.”

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Research reveals novel quantum state in strange insulating materials

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Researchers from Brown University have shown experimentally how a unique form of magnetism arises in an odd class of materials called Mott insulators. The findings are a step toward a better understanding the quantum states of these materials, which have generated much interest among scientists in recent years.

The study, published in Nature Communications, helps to confirm novel theoretical work that attempts to explain how electrons behave in these strange materials. The work was done in collaboration with scientists at Stanford University and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

We found that the theory holds up well,” said Vesna Mitrović, an associate professor of physics at Brown who led the work. “It shows that this new theory, based on quantum models involving complicated electron spin interactions, is a good start to understanding magnetism in strongly interacting materials.”

Mott insulators are materials that should be conductors according to traditional theories of electrical conductivity, but act as insulators nonetheless. The insulating state arises because electrons in these materials are strongly correlated and repel each other. That dynamic creates a kind of electron traffic jam, preventing the particles from flowing to form a current. Scientists are hopeful that they can find ways of moving these materials in and out of the Mott insulating state, which would be useful in developing new kinds of functional devices. It’s also been shown that by introducing impurities into their structure, some Mott insulators become high-temperature superconductors—materials that can conduct electricity without resistance at temperatures well above those normally required for superconductivity.

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Kansas, Oklahoma students honored for research in biosciences

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Eighteen undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students were honored for their scientific research presentations at the 15th annual Kansas IDeA (Institutional Development Awards) Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) symposium last month in Manhattan, Kansas.

The annual symposium is part of the K-INBRE initiative to identify and recruit promising university students into careers in biomedical research in Kansas. Led by the University of Kansas Medical Center, 10 campuses in Kansas and Oklahoma participate in the collaborative network.

Developing and recruiting biomedical researchers in Kansas is a priority for the K-INBRE program,” said Doug Wright, principal investigator for K-INBRE and professor and director of graduate studies in anatomy and cell biology at KU Medical Center. 

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Climate models may underestimate future warming on tropical mountains

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In few places are the effects of climate change more pronounced than on tropical peaks like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, where centuries-old glaciers have all but melted completely away. Now, new research suggests that future warming on these peaks could be even greater than climate models currently predict.

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Tissue engineering advance reduces heart failure in model of heart attack

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Researchers have grown heart tissue by seeding a mix of human cells onto a 1-micron-resolution scaffold made with a 3-D printer. The cells organized themselves in the scaffold to create engineered heart tissue that beats synchronously in culture. When the human-derived heart muscle patch was surgically placed onto a mouse heart after a heart attack, it significantly improved heart function and decreased the amount of dead heart tissue.

Our novel technique is the first to achieve resolution of 1 micrometer or less,” the researchers reported in the journal Circulation Research. This tissue engineering advance is an important step toward the goal of preventing heart failure after a heart attack. Such heart failures account for nearly half of the 7.3 million worldwide heart disease-related deaths each year.

The heart cannot regenerate muscle tissue after a heart attack has killed part of the muscle wall. That dead tissue can strain surrounding muscle, leading to a lethal heart enlargement. It has long been the dream of heart experts to create new tissue that could replace damaged muscle and protect the heart from dilatation after a heart attack.

The researchers, led by Jianyi “Jay” Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Brenda Ogle, Ph.D., the University of Minnesota, modeled the scaffold after a three-dimensional scan of the extracellular matrix of a piece of mouse myocardial tissue. Extracellular matrix is the collection of compounds secreted by cells that gives structural support and cushioning to hold the tissue together.

Using multiphoton three-dimensional printing, the team then created crosslinks among extracellular proteins dissolved in a photoreactive gelatin. When the uncrosslinked gelatin was washed away, the photopolymerized extracellular protein scaffold that remained replicated the shape of the extracellular matrix, with hollows where cells had been.

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Old enzyme, new role

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A team of researchers at the University of Delaware has discovered a new function for an enzyme that has long been known to have a central role in bacterial metabolism.

Maciek Antoniewicz, Centennial Junior Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, explains that metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that takes place inside cells to maintain life by breaking down substrate molecules such as sugars and generating energy and new cell components.

Many of the core metabolic pathways are shared across widely diverse branches of life, and fundamental understanding of the enzymes involved is a central effort of cell biology and biochemistry,” he says. “This basic knowledge is also critical for efforts such as using models of metabolism to rationally re-engineer microbes for the production of biofuels or chemicals — that is, metabolic engineering.”

He and his team at UD recently investigated a system of four enzymes that work together to both bring sugar into the cell and carry out a downstream step in its breakdown in a process called glycolysis.

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UNH researchers ID bacteria contaminating seafood

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University of New Hampshire scientists in partnership with the FDA and public health and shellfish management agencies in five states have identified a new strain of a bacterial pathogen that has contaminated seafood, sickening shellfish consumers along the Atlantic Coast at increasing rates over the last decade.

N.H. Agricultural Experiment Station scientists have discovered that a Vibrio parahaemolyticus strain identified as ST631 is a predominant strain endemic to the Atlantic Coast of North America and has been traced to shellfish harvested in seven Atlantic coastal states and Canada. ST631 is the second most prevalent strain isolated from patients sickened by product sourced to the Northeast United States. Vibrio parahaemolyticus is the leading seafood-transmitted bacterial pathogen worldwide with an estimated 45,000 infections in the United States every year. It causes gastroenteritis and, rarely, lethal septicemia. The findings were announced in a letter to the editor at the Journal of Clinical Microbiology "Sequence Type 631 Vibrio parahaemolyticus, an Emerging Foodborne Pathogen in North America."

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University of Vermont among recipients of $30m in funding from the Department of Energy to integrate solar into nation's electric grid

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The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) SunShot Initiative announced up to $30 million in new projects to support the integration of solar energy into the nation’s electric grid, while diversifying the nation’s electricity sources and improving the reliability and security of the electric grid. SunShot will fund 13 projects with a total of up to $30 million to develop next-generation grid planning and operation tools that help to integrate more solar power with the grid.

SunShot selected 13 projects under the ENERGISE funding program to enable grid operators to access up-to-the-minute measurement and forecasting data from distributed energy sources and optimize system performance using sensor, communication and data analytics technologies. These projects will help to improve the reliability of the nation’s energy grid by providing utilities with dynamic, automated and cost-effective management of solar and other distributed energy sources. These software and hardware solutions will be highly scalable, data-driven, and capable of fully optimizing system operation and planning.

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