Category: research

UGA-Emory collaborations in Infectious Disease research

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The Provost's Office highlighted some research collaborations in the state of Georgia among our premier institutions, the cummulative extramural support awarded these efforts and its effects. The summary included work by Franklin College professor of genetics, Jessica Kissinger:

Kissinger, who directs the UGA Institute of Bioinformatics, is leading a team that is organizing, distributing and mining the massive quantities of data produced by the project with the ultimate goal of identifying new opportunities to diagnose the disease, which causes an estimated 660,000 deaths annually.

"The goal of my team is to integrate the terabytes of data being produced on both the host and the parasite and make it accessible to our mathematical modelers, who are looking for patterns and signals, as well as the global malaria research community to guarantee that this large investment has the biggest impact possible on malaria research," Kissinger said.

More news coming soon on Kissinger's work with bioinformatics. Suffice it to say we are inspired by her efforts and those of other faculty members working beyond campus to further important goals for improving health around the world.

CCRC-Franklin researchers target cancer stem cells

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A new paper by research scientists at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center focuses on cancer stem cells:

the research team demonstrates that the sugar molecule, made by an enzyme known as GnT-V, regulates the development of a particular subset of cancerous cells known as cancer stem cells.

Much like normal stem cells that sustain organs and tissues, cancer stem cells can self-renew, and their cellular offspring clump together to form tumors. Conventional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy or radiation may reduce overall tumor size, but if they do not kill the cancer stem cells, the disease is likely to return.

"You can think of it like a colony of ants," said Michael Pierce, director of UGA's Cancer Center, Mudter Professor in Cancer Research in UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and principal investigator for the study. "You can kill the ants in the mound, but if you don't get the queen, they will come back."

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Their discovery paves the way for new cancer treatment methods specifically designed to inhibit GnT-V, which, when combined with other treatments, may help prevent disease recurrence.

While their study focused particularly on colorectal cancers, the researchers hope their discovery may one day work for a variety of cancer types.

"This is a rapidly growing field within the cancer research community," said Pierce, who is also a Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "We want to know what makes these cancer stem cells unique and what we need to do in order to target them specifically so we can develop new treatments and save lives."

Great work by some of our best. Congratulations to Pierce and his team. Continued good results on this important work.

Linguistics PhD grad wins international dissertation prize

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MUnze.gifCongratulations to Dr. Mark Wenthe, currently a parttime instructor at UGA and also a recent PhD alumnus in linguistics in the department of classics, who won an international competition for best dissertation for the year 2013 from the Society of Indo-European Studies (Indogermanische Gesellschaft).

Wenthe's dissertation, ISSUES IN THE PLACEMENT OF ENCLITIC PERSONAL PRONOUNS IN THE RIGVEDA, among the four canonical sacred texts (śruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas, actually shared the award with Konstantinos Sampanis from the Univ. of Salzburg (Austria). Both scholars received full marks for their work.

Congratulations as well to Jared S. Klein, professor of linguistics, classics, and Germanic and Slavic languages director, program in linguistics in the department of classics. Our scholars are making an impact around the world, as their work is celebrated, noted and honored. Congratulationd again on this outstanding achievement.

Dorsey, Garfinkel and Joye elected to AAAS

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dorsey_alan_0.jpgFantastic news for the Franklin College and UGA, as three faculty members including Franklin dean Alan Dorsey were elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

an honor bestowed upon them by their peers for "scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications."

These three faculty members are among 401 new AAAS Fellows who will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin—representing science and engineering, respectively—on Feb. 14 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.

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Dorsey, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and professor of physics: Dorsey's research in theoretical condensed matter physics seeks an understanding of the peculiar properties of matter subjected to extreme conditions, such as low temperatures and high magnetic fields. Such conditions reveal fundamental quantum-mechanical phenomena that lead to wholly new phases of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids and supersolids.

David J. Garfinkel, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology: Garfinkel's research focuses on "jumping genes" known as transposons, which make additional copies of themselves and insert those copies throughout the genome. The Garfinkel lab has contributed to understanding the mechanism by which transposable genetic elements are mobilized, shape genome structure and function and are regulated by host factors.

Samantha Joye, UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of marine sciences: Joye is a microbial geochemist by training, and her expertise lies in quantifying rates of microbial hydrocarbon metabolism and environmental geochemical signatures in natural environments. She has studied Gulf of Mexico natural seeps for 20 years and has tracked the environmental fate of oil and gas released from the Macondo well blowout since May 2010.

Thrilling news. New AAAS members from UGA is a key indicator to our peer institutions and a great sign of the intellectual engagement on campus by these leaders in research. Wonderful accolades for the individuals, our college and the university.

New funding for ECOGIG-2

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Joye.AuSt_0.jpegSamantha Joye's tireless work in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the 2010 Macondo well blowout will continue thanks to a major new support stream:

Joye has received a new grant to continue its studies of natural oil seeps and to track the impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

The project, known as ECOGIG-2 or "Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf," is a collaborative, multi-institutional effort involving biological, chemical, geological and chemical oceanographers. The research team has worked in the Gulf since the weeks following the 2010 Macondo well blowout.

The three-year, $18.8 million dollar ECOGIG-2 program was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, or GoMRI.

"I am so thrilled that the ECOGIG-2 research program was selected for funding by the GoMRI research board," said Joye, the UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and a professor of marine sciences. "Our work will explore the basics of oil and gas cycling at natural seeps, discern the impacts of chemical dispersants on microbial populations and their activity and on the fate of discharged hydrocarbons, use sophisticated instrumentation and physical and biogeochemical models to track hydrocarbon transport and continue to document recovery of deep-water ecosystems from the Macondo blowout."

Congratulations to Joye and her colleagues. So many facets to this work, which will produce a better understanding of natural and not-so-natural hydrocarbon discharges into marine ecosystems. With energy exploration and regional economies interconnected perhaps as never before, Joye's research focus and expertise continue to play a crucial role in policy debates that try to reconcile the common interests of the two.

Image: Samantha Joye aboard a research vessel Atlantis, courtesy the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiaitive

Taking a closer look at workaholism

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What does it mean when work becomes our life, our identity, our primary devotion? The question itself is a function only of higher considerations, a luxury hopefully of which we become availed as society advances. One of the fundamental spilts between the approach to social policy in the U.S. and Europe is over how we see this very question: Workaholism - how does it work?

workaholism tends to produce negative impacts for employers and employees, according to a new study from a University of Georgia researcher.

The study, "All Work and No Play? A Meta-Analytic Examination of the Correlates and Outcomes of Workaholism" published in the Journal of Management, uses existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, including its similarities to other forms of addiction.

"Though there is some disagreement on whether it should be conceptualized as an addiction, some researchers go so far as calling workaholism a ‘positive addiction,'" said Malissa Clark, an assistant professor of industrial/organizational psychology at UGA and lead author on the study. "We recognize in this study that it brings a negative outcome for yourself and the people around you. The mixed rhetoric and research surrounding workaholism provided the need for a thorough quantitative analysis."

Just so, and this is a great point. There's already a lot of research on the subject out there, but the need to understand workaholism remains. Meta-Analysis a statistical technique that involves combining and analyzing the results of many different individual studies devoted to a specific topic, that allows researchers to get a better look at overall trends and identify possible relationships that might exist. That's exactly what Clark and colleagues have done here and the results are very interesting. How to improve the workplace in a way that benefits employees and employers should be of paramount concern. The health of our society is no small part depends on how we appraoch this question, as well as the others that branch our from it. Clark is doing a great job of informing this discussion and we look forward to more.

Examining the history of plants

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Morning_glory.jpgIt sounds like the title of a cable documentary (a good one! And maybe it is) but scientists from North America, Europe and China have published a paper in PNAS that reveals important details about key transitions in the evolution of plant life on Earth:

From strange and exotic algae, mosses, ferns, trees and flowers growing deep in steamy rainforests to the grains and vegetables humans eat and the ornamental plants adorning people's homes, all plant life on Earth shares over a billion years of history.

"Our study generated DNA sequences from a vast number of distantly related plants, and we developed new analysis tools to understand their relationships and the timing of key innovations in plant evolution," said study co-author Jim Leebens-Mack, an associate professor of plant biology in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

As part of the One Thousand Plants, or 1KP, initiative, the research team is generating millions of gene sequences from plant species sampled from across the green tree of life. By resolving these relationships, the international research team is illuminating the complex processes that allowed ancient water-faring algae to evolve into land plants with adaptations to competition for light, water and soil nutrients.

Great stuff, congratulations to this international team. More lights come on and we are able to understand our world and how it works a little better.

Image: Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) is a beautiful flowering plant and agricultural weed. (Credit: Lindsay Chaney/Brigham Young University)

Four Thirty-Three: Spotlight on Scholarship

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In 1952, American experimental composer John Cale composed a three-movement composition, Four minutes, thirty-three seconds, or Four thirty-three. Written for any instrument or combination of instruments, the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece purports to consist of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence". The title refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of a given performance, 4′33″ being the total length of the first public performance, and a standard length of 'canned music.' Cage intended to sell the composition to the Musak Company.

A reflection of the influence of Zen Buddhism on Cage, the piece challenged audiences to reconsider the function of art and the borders between traditional art disciplines and between artistic practice and philosophy.

For the 2014 Spotlight on the Arts Festival, the Arts Council is riffing on this idea in a competition aimed at UGA graduate students:

The UGA Arts Council is seeking graduate students to participate in the inaugural “4 minutes, 33 seconds: Spotlight on Scholarship” competition. The event, which will award two prizes of $433 each, will give the campus community insight into the scholarship and research in the arts conducted by University of Georgia graduate students.

For the competition, graduate students have 4 minutes, 33 seconds to describe their research. They can use up to 33 visual aid slides to help explain the topic. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10 in the Chapel, as part of the Spotlight on the Arts festival.

Points will be awarded based on performance, originality and passion, as well as conciseness, comprehension, engagement and ability to convey the research to a non-specialist audience. Sound and props are permitted.

Two winners will be chosen: one by a panel of faculty within and outside the arts and another chosen as an audience favorite. The winners will receive support for their research in the form of an award of $433 each.

Today is the dealine for entries. Graduate students can apply by emailing camiew@uga.edu and CC’ing your department’s Arts Council representative (for a list of Arts Council representatives, see http://arts.uga.edu/about/uga-arts-council-directory/). The email should contain your name, degree objective and a paragraph that clearly, succinctly and compellingly describes your research topic and its significance to a non-specialist audience. A subcommittee of the Arts Council will determine the participants.

Here's Cale's Paris 1919

 

 

$1.44 million NIH grant to statistics researcher

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Wenxuan-Zhong.jpgA better understanding of epigenetics, or changes in our genetic activity that do not precipitate changes in our genetic code, is one of outcome of expanded research capabilties. As technology gets more refined, broadening possibilities for scientific investigation and, indeed, our ability to inquire into the nature of things, our best researchers gain new insights on a range of questions, conditions and phenomena. This of course includes the latest in electron micrscopy and advanced clinical trials but also mathematical and statistical modeling techniques that increasingly hold the key to advanced analysis and identification:

 [A] statistics researcher has been awarded a $1.44 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop statistical models that may one day be used to predict cancer and other diseases.

Wenxuan Zhong, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of statistics, will use the funds to develop predictive statistical models based on epigenetic change patterns.

Epigenetics—epi meaning ‘over' or ‘other' in Greek—is the study of changes in a gene's behavior that can be passed down without actually altering the genetic code. Like an airport traffic controller, the epigenome passes along instructions that change the way the gene is expressed by switching genes on and off.

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Zhong hopes to shed light on the role of epigenetic changes in illnesses, particularly cancer.
One form of epigenetic change known as DNA methylation is particularly understudied in this area.

"There's a large amount of evidence that a process known as DNA methylation is a key player in cancer development," Zhong said. "Today's next-generation sequencing techniques give us the data we need to close the gap in this area of research."

Zhong and her team will develop a suite of statistical models to broaden the understanding of how epigenetic patterns are established and maintained during normal development and under different environmental conditions.

Large amounts of epigenetic and genomic data are routinely collected, processed and stored. Statisticians like Zhong look for ways to make the data tell the story.

Congratulations to Dr. Zhong and her team on this new support for an important path of inquiry. These pursuits represent the very best of university research and the leading edge of scientific discovery.

New approach for early diagnosis of dementia

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psychology.jpgResearchers in the department of psychology have developed a unique method for diagnosing the earliest stages of dementia by applying tasks commonly used to gauge levels of impulsive or risky behaviors related to financial decisions:

This approach, which has been used in the past to evaluate the decision-making processes of problem gamblers and other impulse control disorders like substance abuse, may help diagnose many forms of dementia before more obvious symptoms emerge. They reported their findings in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.

"The brain is so good at compensating for losses associated with dementia that disorders like Alzheimer's disease can progress for years before anyone notices symptoms," said Cutter Lindbergh, lead author of the study and doctoral candidate in psychology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "By the time people realize something is wrong, the disease has become irreversible, so we need better diagnostics to give medical interventions the best chance of success."

The number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated at 35.6 million, resulting in more than $600 billion in annual costs, according to the World Health Organization. But as people live longer and elderly populations increase worldwide, the number of dementia sufferers will double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.

Great work that will have real impact on millions by homing in on the decision-making processes that present another view to conventional testing by neuropsychologists - not a different view, but a way to evaluate symptoms differently. Congratulations to our researchers on the publication of this new study.