Dr Jennifer Kay | Professor Bevin Page Engelward – The MIT Superfund Research Program: Studies on Cleaning Up Genes and the Environment
In the United States, there are thousands of industrial sites contaminated by the irresponsible disposal of chemical waste. The higher than expected frequency of cancer cases near these sites has caused alarm, since many of the chemical contaminants found at these sites have been linked to the development of long-term health problems, including cancer. As leaders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Superfund Research Program, Dr Jennifer Kay (Research Scientist and Research Translation Director) and Professor Bevin Page Engelward (Program Director) are using their expertise to investigate the genetic factors that influence susceptibility to adverse health outcomes following exposure to environmental chemicals.
Professor Steven E. Wilson – Clearing the Haze: Understanding the Process of Scarring Following Corneal Injury
Any injury such as trauma, surgery or infection to the cornea in the eye may result in persistent scarring (clinically referred to as fibrosis) due to the wound healing response. Professor Steven E. Wilson at the Cole Eye Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation has identified that defective epithelial basement membrane (EBM) regeneration plays a central role in the development of scar producing myofibroblast cells. Critically, Professor Wilson suggests that the pathophysiological consequences of defective EBM regeneration are also likely to have wider relevance to the fibrosis that occurs in other organs, such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, and skin.
We all know exercise is good for us. In addition to the renowned physical benefits, Professor Kirk Erickson in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh is providing powerful evidence that exercise may improve cognitive faculties throughout the lifespan. Read on to discover the wide range of ways in which exercise can help us to live our lives to the fullest across the years, and how the emerging field of health neuroscience may inform public health policy for our better good.
Dr Jun Hua, Associate Professor at the F. M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, USA, leads a team focused on developing novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies for imaging the structure and function of the brain. Recently, they have been pioneering the development of new MRI techniques that can be used to improve pre-surgical planning for neurological patients and optimise patient outcomes.
Professor Stephan Pleschka | Professor M Lienhard Schmitz – The Influenza A Genotype and Cell Signalling Networks
Influenza viruses pose a major threat despite advances in vaccine and drug development. Research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive influenza viruses aims to reveal new drug targets to fight disease. However, information on the molecular mechanisms of how influenza viruses infect and replicate in host cells is currently limited. As part of the German Collaborative Research Centre 1021 (CRC1021), Professors Stephan Pleschka and M Lienhard Schmitz at the Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany are exploring the impact of the genetic variability of influenza viruses on the interactions between the virus and host cell that regulate viral infection and replication.
Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with scientists now able to precisely insert beneficial genes into plant genomes and accurately predict the activity of the new genes in the host plant. However, public acceptance has not kept up with the technological advancements in this field. Dr James G. Thomson and his team at the USDA’s Western Regional Research Center have developed Lilac Limes using this advanced genetic technology. This striking purple fruit could help to open dialogue with consumers and encourage greater acceptance of the use of genetic technology in food plants.
Despite recent efforts to promote diversity in STEM education and professional environments, some ethnic groups remain highly underrepresented in STEM fields, including the Hispanic/LatinX community. To tackle this underrepresentation, researchers at the University of San Diego have created a multi-dimensional program funded by the National Science Foundation called STEMWoW, which is designed to promote and sustain interest in STEM disciplines among middle school students from underserved communities.
The milk output of the Puerto Rican dairy industry has remained static over the last 30 years, despite improvements in the genetics of cows. With the quality of forage being a key limitation to milk production on the Island, Dr Teodoro Ruiz and his team from the University of Puerto Rico have been investigating the effects of alternative forage crops on milk yield. They are also evaluating the productivity of Puerto Rican ‘pelón’ Holstein cows, with the overall aim of developing strategies to improve milk production under tropical conditions.
Despite dramatic advances in neuroscience and biology in the 20th and 21st centuries, our understanding of the brain remains very limited. Dr Yan M Yufik, Head at Virtual Structures Research Inc, USA, is a physicist and cognitive scientist who has spent over 20 years combining experimental findings and theoretical concepts in domains as diverse as neuroscience and thermodynamics to form a theory of the brain. His focus has been on elucidating the mechanisms underlying human understanding and applying the results to the design of machines that can not only learn but understand what they are learning.
Fungi feeding on other fungi (mycoparasites) represent a promising alternative to chemical fungicides for plant disease control. They also have potential applications in medicine and across industry. Dr Susanne Zeilinger and her team from the University of Innsbruck in Austria are working to identify and characterise the genes and gene products that are active during the interactions of antagonistic fungi. This critical work is paving the way for improvement of fungal strains as biotechnological workhorses in plant protection and beyond.
Representing approximately 7,000 members in over 100 countries, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) is devoted to advancing engineering research applicable to agriculture, food and biological systems. In this exclusive interview, we have had the pleasure of speaking with Dr Sue Nokes, President of ASABE, who discusses the myriad of ways that the Society accelerates this diverse research field, towards ensuring global food, energy and water security, in the face of our changing climate and growing human population.
Accidental falls are one of the leading causes of injuries and accidental death for the elderly, and the risk of falling increases significantly in those with neurological disorders or frailty. Dr Fay B Horak and her colleagues at Oregon Health & Science University and APDM Wearable Technologies, USA, are investigating the use of APDM’s novel wearable technology to monitor mobility in daily life of individuals at risk of falling to help prevent falls and identify prefrail elderly individuals.
Foreign animal disease outbreaks in livestock systems have far-reaching economic, trade and food security implications. Biosecurity strategies can enhance the resilience of livestock production; however, understanding the behaviors of people involved in agriculture is critical – and more challenging. In a new approach, an innovative US-wide project is integrating social science, human decision making, economic and animal health perspectives to target disease prevention.
If there is one thing to celebrate about this year, it’s the fact that the country has finally started to wake up to the climate emergency. Thanks, among other things, to the thousands of children regularly striking for their right to have a better future than the one we have been building for them, a majority of the UK public, now back a 2030 zero-carbon target.
The economically important Norway spruce tree naturally grows in mountain forest ecosystems, and is the main tree species in vast plantations across Europe. However, in the recent decades, its risk of attack by the destructive Eurasian spruce bark beetle has considerably increased. Although the complex interactions of host, pest and environmental conditions that allow attacks to occur have been extensively studied for more than 100 years, predictive tools for pest management still suffer from knowledge gaps. Dr Sigrid Netherer and her team at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Austria, have been investigating the role of drought stress and other environmental and biotic factors on infestations, to produce a novel universal framework for monitoring and predicting bark beetle outbreaks.
As humans, we communicate our emotions to others in several different ways, including touch, motion, facial expression, and of course, speech. We can also communicate social information through chemosensory signals. Dr Bettina Pause, a professor at Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, has carried out extensive research exploring human communication and sensory perception, and in particular, how we quickly and effectively convey emotional states such as anxiety and aggression to others without even using words.
Based in in Alexandria, Virginia, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest, most influential organisation for horticultural scientists. Representing thousands of professionals worldwide, the Society is dedicated to supporting and advancing research, education and application in all branches of horticulture. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Dr Louise Ferguson, President-Elect of ASHS, who discusses the diverse field of horticultural science, and explains how the organisation supports and promotes the myriad aspects of horticulture.
Dr Tammy Movsas, MD, MPH – Towards a Brighter Future: How Zietchick Research Institute Plans to Transform Treatment for Retinal Disease
Both diabetic adults and premature babies are at risk for a similar type of eye disease that involves the growth of abnormal, blood vessels in the retina, the photosensitive layer of the eye. When this eye disease occurs in diabetics, it is called diabetic retinopathy and when it occurs in premature infants, it is called retinopathy of prematurity. The pathologic vessels, seen in both of these diseases, can pull on the retina and cause it to detach, leading to blindness. Dr Tammy Movsas (Executive Director and Principal Investigator) and Dr Arivalagan Muthusamy (Chief Scientist) at the Zietchick Research Institute, USA, are developing new therapeutics to treat these serious retinal diseases that affect both premature baby eyes and mature adult eyes, such as those of diabetic women.
Because of growing international trade, increasing numbers of invasive pest insects are being transported throughout the world. If they become established, invasive insects can have enormous impacts on agriculture, human health and natural ecosystems. However, it can be difficult to control them without causing further damage to the surrounding environment. Dr Robert K. Vander Meer of the USDA Agricultural Research Service studies the chemistry of pest ants, as it pertains to their behaviour and biological systems, with the aim of identifying efficient novel methods to monitor and control them.
Residues of drugs, pesticides and other chemical substances can reduce the safety of animal-derived foods, adversely affecting the health and confidence of consumers. To address this pressing issue, scientists at several US universities founded the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD), a program aimed at providing veterinarians and livestock producers with knowledge and tools that can help in preventing or reducing the presence of chemical residues in food.
Carrots display a wide range of different colours – orange, purple, white, red and yellow – driven by the accumulation of various compounds. These compounds affect the nutritional value and health benefits of the roots, making them prime targets for breeding better varieties. Dr Philipp Simon and his colleagues at the United States Department of Agriculture investigate the genetics of carrot colours to help breeders develop even more nutritious strains.
Southern flounder is an economically important edible fish, but farming of this species has not yet been perfected. In fact, fish farms are heavily reliant on capturing new fish from the wild each year for breeding purposes. However, wild populations are in decline due to changing environmental conditions and over-exploitation, which presents a real challenge to the sustainable production of this species. Dr Todd Sink and his colleagues at Texas A&M University are developing new methods to move away from the use of wild fish, by creating a sustainable captive breeding stock.
Liver abscesses can affect as many as nine out of ten cattle in feedlots in the US, with detrimental impacts on animal well-being, performance, and consequently the economic value of beef. Dr Clint Loest and his team from New Mexico State University have been studying the reasons behind varying levels of liver abscess in herds across the US, in an effort to find viable alternatives to antibiotics for controlling these abscesses in feedlot cattle.
In recent years, dramatic advances have been made in brain science and molecular genetics. However, there is currently a shortage of psychiatrists with the scientific training necessary to take this knowledge and apply it in the clinic. Psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher, Dr Susan Voglmaier of the University of California, San Francisco, runs a research training program that supports the next generation of research scientists in the field of psychiatry. Dr Voglmaier believes that by training doctors in scientific techniques and methods, we may come to better understand mental illness and provide more effective treatments for psychiatric diseases in the future.
Dogs are renowned for their status as man’s best friend. Based first at the University of Colorado and now at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, Dr Jaime Modiano and his team have spent the last 25 years trying to understand how cancer develops at a basic level, aiming to use this knowledge to improve the health and wellbeing of both humans and their companion animals.
Over 30 years ago, a small group of diverse medical research charities formed the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) to unite the sector and provide it with a leading voice. Since then, their membership has grown to 146 charities and they continue to lead and support the sector in delivering high-quality research that saves and improves lives. The AMRC is now the the UK’s national membership organisation for health and medical research charities. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Aisling Burnand, AMRC’s Chief Executive, to hear about their vital work.
The incidence and severity of droughts continue to increase across the globe, posing a significant threat to agricultural productivity and our ability to feed a rapidly increasing human population. However, drought-stressed plants encourage a shift in the microorganism communities surrounding their roots, which in turn may help the plants to tolerate drought conditions. By harnessing this system, Dr Devin Coleman-Derr and his team at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and University of California, Berkeley, aim to develop microbial-based treatments to improve the drought tolerance and productivity of important crop species.
Dr Melinda Frye | Dr Noa Roman-Muniz – A Holistic Approach to Advancing the Rural Veterinary Population
Within the agricultural community, there is a great shortage of veterinary professionals. This lack of ‘Food Supply Veterinarians’ (FSVs) creates risk for economic loss, public health concerns, and a decline in animal welfare. Dr Melinda Frye, Dr Noa Roman-Muniz and their colleagues at Colorado State University have developed a program that aims to increase the number of practising FSVs. As part of the program, these highly-trained professionals can more easily integrate into the agricultural community, ultimately enhancing animal welfare, food safety and farm profits.
Traditional intensive farming practices have significant negative consequences for the land and surrounding ecosystems. By disrupting the natural function of these habitats, the valuable ecosystem services they provide are compromised. Dr Richard Teague in the department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University, and colleagues around North America, are investigating the costs and benefits of replacing traditional farming practices with regenerative cropping and grazing techniques that restore ecosystem function and soil health as the base for improving profits.
Fruit flies cause significant annual damage to fruit crops globally by laying their eggs into healthy, living fruit tissue. The difficulty in predicting the attacks and controlling the flies before it is too late leads farmers to spray pesticides that can have damaging consequences for surrounding ecosystems. Dr Nicholas M. Teets and his team from the University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology aim to eliminate the need for pesticides in the battle against these insect pests, through the development of sterile insects that are easy to rear and release en masse.