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Colorado River Delta Greener After Engineered Pulse of Water

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 14:45

The engineered spring flood that brought water to previously dry reaches of the lower Colorado River and its delta resulted in greener vegetation, the germination of new vegetation along the river and a temporary rise in the water table, according to new results from the binational team of scientists studying the water’s effects.

The experimental pulse flow of water was the result of a U.S.-Mexico agreement called Minute 319.

“The pulse flow worked,” said Karl W. Flessa, a University of Arizona professor of geosciences and co-chief scientist for the Minute 319 Science Team. “A small amount of water can have a big effect on the delta’s ecosystem.”

Starting March 23, 2014, and ending May 18, approximately 105,392 acre-feet (130 million cubic meters) of water was released into the dry river bed below Morelos Dam, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border just west of Yuma. 

"The groundwater was recharged, vegetation got greener than previous years and the water helped germinate new native vegetation," Flessa said. "As a bonus, the river reached the sea."

In addition, people living along the river benefited, he said.

"People in the communities along the river were just overjoyed to see their river again," he said. "When the surface water was there, people celebrated. Kids who’d never seen water in the river before got to splash in it."

The science team includes more than 21 scientists from universities, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations from both Mexico and the U.S., including the UA, the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Nature Conservancy, the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute and the Ensenada-based Pronatura Noroeste.

Flessa presented the team’s findings at his talk, "The Science and Policy of the First Environmental Flows to the Colorado River Delta," on Dec. 18 as part of the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Although most of the water soaked into the ground in the 37 miles below the dam, the river's surface flow reached areas farther downstream that had been targeted for restoration. The increase in groundwater revived vegetation along the entire 83-mile route to the sea.

By comparing Landsat 8 satellite images from August 2013 with those from August 2014, team members calculated a 23 percent increase in the greenness of riparian zone vegetation. 

Although the groundwater did eventually recede, the surface water caused the germination of new willows and cottonwoods. Those plants germinate after natural spring floods, and their roots can grow fast enough to keep up with the receding water table.

The surface water reached the restoration sites prepared by the Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste and helped establish native vegetation.

"So long as the roots get down into the permanent water table, then you have established a new bunch of trees that will then live for 20, 30, 40 years," Flessa said. "Those trees will attract birds."

The scientists already observed an increase in the numbers of birds, he said.

Learning where the newly germinated plants survived past the first summer will help the researchers figure out where ecosystem restoration will do the most good using the least amount of water, he said.

"The water that soaked into the ground is also good for the farmers," Flessa said. "It raises the water table and they pump that water — so this isn’t just about trees and birds."

The team will continue to monitor the lower Colorado River Delta's vegetation and hydrological response to the pulse flow, including the long-term effect on groundwater. It also will study how the new vegetation affects both resident birds and those migrating along the Pacific Flyway.

The five-year program to monitor the environmental results of the pulse flow is being supported by government agencies and environmental groups in both countries, under the auspices of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The Minute 319 pulse flow is part of a five-year agreement (2012-17) adopted by the International Boundary and Water Commission, under the framework of a 1944 U.S.-Mexico treaty that governs water allocations on the Colorado River between the two countries.

The agreement provides multiple benefits for Colorado River water users in both countries, including environmental flows to the delta. Minute 319 identifies criteria for sharing of future water shortages and surpluses between the two countries, allows storage of Mexican water in Lake Mead and supports improvements to Mexican irrigation infrastructure.

"Another pulse flow would require a new agreement, because Minute 319 calls for only one pulse flow within the five-year term of the minute," Flessa said. "We hope the results of this pulse flow encourage the negotiators to make this happen again." 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Mari N. JensenByline Affiliation: College of ScienceExtra Info: 

Karl Flessa’s homepage


Sonoran Institute


Minute 319 Monitoring Progress Report

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Communities were "overjoyed to see their river again," says the UA's Karl Flessa, co-chief scientist for the team that observed new and greener vegetation and a temporary rise in the water table.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

TLA Commercialization Partners Take On UA Startups

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 18:57

What are the ingredients for a successful university startup? When starting a new company like those based on research at the University of Arizona, Tech Launch Arizona — the unit of the UA that commercializes inventions emanating from University research — understands that startups require a number of elements for success, such as marketable ideas and great leadership.

At more than $630 million last year, UA faculty research represents a rich source of those ideas and inventions that have the potential to impact society and the economy.

Now, with the addition of a new roster of commercialization partners, or CPs, TLA adds business management into the mix of ingredients for success.

To fulfill the leadership needs of new UA-born companies, TLA recruited experienced entrepreneurs and leaders. From an original pool of 44 applicants, 12 individuals were selected to serve in one of three distinct CP roles:

  • Entrepreneur-in-residence: EIRs are interested in starting companies based on UA technologies. They work in residence at TLA for defined periods, during which they help to identify technologies with promise, with the goal of selecting one to lead into a startup. EIRs work with TLA, inventors and potential startup team members. This cohort of EIRs includes Dan Janes, Aaron Call, Kelvin Ning, Ron Hahn, Doug McFetters and John Zipp.
  • Executive-in-residence: XIRs work directly with TLA and UA inventors to identify the commercial potential of technologies and insert an "entrepreneurial perspective" into planning and discussions.  Although an XIR may opt to participate in a startup, the position is designed to be "in-house entrepreneurial adviser" and is stipend-based. The group includes five XIRs: Brian Ellerman, Ted Kraus, John Buttery, Patrick Marcus and Bruce Burgess.
  • Investor-in-residence: IIRs work with TLA to assess how ready companies are for investment by Cat Corp. Dennis Merens is TLA’s IIR.

These 12 seasoned CPs provide high-level entrepreneurial input and perspective in the commercialization of UA technologies. They help the TLA team to determine the most viable and productive commercialization pathways for new technologies, and take on leadership roles to bring UA inventions to the marketplace. 

One of the strengths of the group is that a large percentage are UA alumni, which opens the door to the connections and resources of a worldwide alumni network. All experienced entrepreneurs, CPs provide powerful business acumen that complements academic leadership, plus the potential for stronger industry and investment relationships. 

Similar programs have seen success in commercialization communities across the country, with examples in the technology transfer, business school and venture capital sectors. 

TLA began exploring a program design for the commercialization partners program in early 2014, when Dan Janes joined TLA as the inaugural Entrepreneur-in-Residence.  In this role, he has been working with TLA on entrepreneurial aspects of individual technologies, interacting with researchers and investigating other executive-in-residence programs. By fall 2014, with Janes’ insight and TLA’s knowledge of UA-specific needs, the unit initiated the broader commercialization partners program and began recruiting.

TLA held its first meeting of the complete CP cohort on Dec. 5, providing them with a chance to meet one another and become better acquainted with the TLA team. At the meeting, TLA presented 14 projects from its startup pipeline. As a result, each technology presented now has two or three partners engaged for an early assessment to help identify opportunities and next steps.

TLA Vice President David Allen is excited about the prospects for the future of the program.

"This is just a starting point for what TLA targets to become an extensive effort to grow the commercialization ecosystem," he says. "As we bring on more commercialization partners, these top entrepreneurs and executives will participate in technology pathway discussions across the whole of TLA and make great contributions to the success of these ventures."

The CPs themselves expressed enthusiasm, as well.

"Over the past two years, Tech Launch Arizona has created a clear path for U of A faculty to commercialize their research and patents into products, services and licenses," says Executive-in-Residence John Buttery.  "I look forward to working with this talented group of professionals to facilitate the startup process, add value for the stakeholders and create world-class companies."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Paul TumarkinByline Affiliation: Tech Launch ArizonaHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Team of a dozen leaders supplies high-level entrepreneurial input and perspective on new technologies and the marketplace.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Meet the 2014 University Distinguished Professors

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:57

The UA's University Distinguished Professor Award, begun in 1995, honors those who have made a difference in students' lives through personal commitment, mentoring a broad range of undergraduate students and fostering an attitude of critical inquiry, encouraging students to question assumptions, challenge conventional wisdom and scrutinize evidence carefully.

The award's recipients for 2014 are geoscientist Andrew Cohen and Shakespearean scholar Fred Kiefer. Cohen has led teams of researchers into the East African Rift Valley of Kenya and Ethiopia, where he has taken samples from dry lakebeds near fossil and archaeological sites of ancient hominins. Kiefer is an expert in the literature and visual culture of the early and modern Renaissance period who joined the UA faculty in 1973.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesScience and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  2014 Distinguished Professors Video of 2014 Distinguished Professors Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Go behind the scenes at the UA with this year's honorees, geoscientist Andrew Cohen and Shakespearean scholar Fred Kiefer.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, December 17, 2014Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Website Shines Light on Renewable Energy Resources

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:32

University of Arizona researchers and a group of partners have developed a tool that will help utility companies better understand the long-term impact of renewable energy on the power grid and provide insight on how to integrate these resources in the future in the most cost-efficient and reliable way for consumers.

The tool — a web portal — gathers, analyzes and displays real-time data from eight Southwestern utility companies, painting a broad picture of energy sources and use across the region. The information will help companies determine what actions to take for backup power planning over the next several years as the percentage of renewable energy usage grows.

By 2025, Arizona utility companies are required to generate 15 percent of their energy from the sun, wind, biogas, biomass, geothermal and other renewable resources. But the power generated by some of these renewable resources is variable. For instance, a cloudy day will change the amount of power generated by a solar array, a stormy day could generate more wind power, and solar generation drops completely at night —right about the time when customers turn on their lights, increasing energy demand.

By using this tool to obtain a deeper understanding of these opportunities and challenges, utility companies will be able to provide customers with a more reliable and efficient power grid, even as variable resources become a larger percentage of the overall power generated.

"Integrating solar and wind resources onto the grid while maintaining the total load and resource balance is the challenge for balancing authorities such as TEP," said Sam Rugel, Tucson Electric Power’s director of systems control and reliability. "This tool will help quantify and communicate that challenge in a more efficient and effective way for us and our customers as we move forward."

Part of the portal is accessible to the general public, marking the first time in the Southwest that so many utility companies have coordinated their efforts to allow this amount of near real-time data to be publicly available.

"The data are available for anyone to download and analyze, and people from all over the world have accessed the site," said Will Holmgren, the UA physics post-doctoral researcher who led the development of the website. "We’re using the data to understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in expanding renewable energy usage in the existing power grid in the Southwest."

The project began in 2012, when the UA Renewable Energy Network, or UAREN, a University-wide initiative designed to support the expanded use of abundant, clean and economical renewable energy, brought together UA researchers and regional utility companies to provide a more complete picture of the challenges that affect energy production and demand. The companies — Arizona Public Service, Arizona’s Generation & Transmission Cooperatives, El Paso Electric, Imperial Irrigation District, Power New Mexico, Salt River Project, Tucson Electric Power and Western Area Power Administration — are part of the Southwest Variable Energy Resource Initiative, or SVERI, which was formed in 2012 to study the impact of variable energy resources on the grid in the Southwest.

Funding for the project is provided by SVERI and managed by UAREN.

"The UA Renewable Energy Network has helped link important leading research in renewable energy power production forecasts at the University of Arizona to real-world applications by the Southwest regional electric utility companies," said Ardeth Barnhart, UAREN program director. "The models of near real-time data in the UAREN SVERI portal will support planning decisions for the increased use and integration of renewable energy into a complex electrical grid."

The SVERI Public Access Data Portal displays a variety of graphs designed to provide a better understanding of the mix of renewable and traditional energy generation in the Southwest: how much energy is being generated overall, how much of that energy generation is from renewable or variable resources, such as solar and wind, and what the total load, or energy demand, is for the utility companies. The data are gathered from more than 150 power facilities across the region, including 75 variable energy resources.  

The website offers a date range selection and an interactive map of renewable energy power stations across the region, as well as an option to download the data. It also includes a glossary to help visitors understand technical or scientific terminology.

In addition to Holmgren and Barnhart, the UA team that worked on the project includes Alex Cronin, associate professor of physics and optical sciences; web developer J.D. Gibbs and web designer Craig Boesewetter, both of the Communications and Cyber Technologies — Web Development Unit within the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Tony Lorenzo, a graduate student in the College of Optical Sciences; and Rey Granillo, development and IT manager at the Institute of the Environment.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Angie BrownByline: Angie BrownByline Affiliation: UA Institute of the EnvironmentHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A team from the University of Arizona and eight southwestern electric utility companies have built a pioneering web portal that provides insight into renewable energy sources and how they contribute to the region’s electricity grid. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

$20 Million Gift Pushes UA Closer to the Stars

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 18:44

On Oct. 19, 1916, all classes were canceled at the University of Arizona and a huge bonfire was staged to celebrate the two largest donations in the University's history at the time: $75,000 for a new mining building and $60,000 to build an observatory.

"Money to Be Used to Buy Telescope of Huge Size," read the headline of the day in the Arizona Daily Star. While the telescope, an ironclad tube with a 36-inch mirror, would be considered modest at best in today's world, the gift — worth about $1.26 million today — did put the UA on track to becoming one of the world leaders in astronomical endeavors.

Now, almost a century later, UA astronomers have a reason to celebrate an equally impactful gift supporting the UA's partnership in the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope, a telescope with an effective mirror diameter of 80 feet (25 meters). Thanks to a donation of $20 million from Richard F. Caris, the University is poised to take its next giant leap into the future of space science.

The UA is one of 11 institutions that have joined forces to build the GMT. Located in Chile's Atacama Desert, the GMT will have more than six times the light-gathering area of the largest telescopes in existence today, and 10 times the resolution of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

"We are grateful that Richard F. Caris has provided this generous gift to the UA, which will support our participation in the GMT, a critically important effort in the space sciences," said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. "Mr. Caris has been an ardent supporter of the University for more than a decade and his contributions have helped establish the UA’s international prominence in astronomical research."

The gift of 1916, made by amateur astronomer Lavinia Steward of Oracle, Arizona, created the UA's Steward Observatory and, in the words of UA astronomer Tom Fleming, "was the first spark of the excellence in space research that the UA would be known for."

"This gift is transformational in that it not only moves the GMT project forward, but also UA's astronomy endeavor as a whole," said Buell Jannuzi, head of the UA Department of Astronomy and director of Steward Observatory. "Through the technology developed at our mirror lab, the UA enables the GMT to happen in the first place. This gift enables the UA to continue at the forefront of astronomical research through access to the telescope's unprecedented capabilities."

Dennis Zaritsky, professor of astronomy and deputy director of Steward Observatory, said astronomy "has come a long way" since those early days. 

"To a large degree, our future progress depends on philanthropy," he said. "Back then, people were observing galaxies, but they didn't know what they were. Nobody knew about exotic objects such as black holes, and no planets were known to exist outside our own solar system."

Progress in astronomy over the last 100 years has been driven by technology, especially bigger and better telescopes. For the most part, these large facilities have been funded by private individuals or foundations, according to Philip Pinto, associate professor in the Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory.

"By going to a bigger telescope, you can see fainter things and see more detail," he said, "and today we are in a situation where the desire of ground-based astronomers to see deeper and more sharply is outstripping the government's willingness ability to support such large projects. The Giant Magellan Telescope is the continuation of this long tradition of privately funded large facilities in astronomy, and Mr. Caris is helping us to meet our share of the obligation."

The Caris gift is in support of the UA's $60 million commitment to the GMT project, which will ensure that UA astronomers will have access to valuable observing time on the landmark telescope, scheduled to be completed in 2021.

"It is extremely important to be one of the partners in one of these big telescope projects," Zaritsky said. "Our goal of a 12 percent share in the telescope will provide as much access to UA faculty and students as any institution partnered in any of the next generation of giant telescopes, making us extremely attractive as the home institution of leading researchers and students in the future."

Richard Caris is the founder and chairman of Interface Inc. A high-tech company in Scottsdale, Arizona, Interface is a world leader in load cell force measurement applications, including the custom mirror-cell support systems in telescopes that the UA has helped construct, such as the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona.

For more than 10 years, Caris has been involved with the Arizona Astronomy Board, an advisory and philanthropic support panel for the Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. He previously gave more than $2 million to fund the primary/tertiary mirror for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope that also will be built in Chile, and through the UA Foundation he has given to the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and the UA Sky School.

"Higher education and the advancement of science are deeply important to Richard," said Sid Leach, a personal friend of Caris' and chairman of the Arizona Astronomy Board. "When Richard was young, he was inspired by the philanthropy of people who had gone before. He would be very pleased if he in turn inspires someone else in the future to likewise pursue philanthropy in support of science and higher education."

The GMT is designed to observe for more than 50 years and will help answer some of humanity’s most fundamental questions, including whether life exists on other planets and how the universe began. Astronomers also will use it to better understand how planets and galaxies form and to help find answers to the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Through its Arizona NOW campaign, the University of Arizona Foundation has raised more than $1 billion toward a $1.5 billion goal. Caris’ gift for the GMT supports all of the campaign’s key initiatives, including academic research, student engagement and expansion of the UA’s global impact.

"It takes a special person to build a global company and then apply that same scale to his philanthropy," said James H. Moore Jr., president and CEO of the foundation. "Mr. Caris may be supporting the Department of Astronomy at the UA, but his influence on big science, and the exploration of our universe, stretches well beyond our University’s boundaries."

In recognition of the gift, the UA’s mirror lab, which provides all of the GMT's primary mirrors, will be renamed the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab. The mirror lab was founded and grown during 37 years of leadership by the former director of Steward Observatory, Peter Strittmatter.

Under the leadership of its director, UA Regents' Professor Roger P. Angel, the mirror lab has earned worldwide recognition for producing giant, lightweight mirrors of unprecedented power for a new generation of optical and infrared telescopes. Without the continued advancements made through the mirror lab, groundbreaking projects such as the Large Binocular Telescope, the largest ground telescope currently in existence, would not have been possible.

Students have played an integral role in the accomplishments of the mirror lab, often pushing the envelope of what was deemed possible.

"Our graduate students, especially from the College of Optical Sciences, have been essential to us," said Buddy Martin, project scientist at the mirror lab. "Working with us gives them real-world manufacturing experience, and it gives us the novel measuring techniques that we need to test and evaluate those mirrors that we make that nobody has designed or made before."

Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, said: "The mirror lab is unquestionably one of the innovation jewels of our University. The lab is known around the world for creating the largest mirrors for astronomical use. It is fitting that it will now have the name of Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, as Mr. Caris is also an innovator with a very successful company in our state."

Said Pinto: "There still is huge space for discovery in the universe. Personally, I expect some big surprises when we finally have GMT operational. I'm excited and can't wait to get it on the sky."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsExtra Info: 

These organizations and institutions are participating with the UA in the GMT project: Astronomy Australia Ltd.; the Australian National University; the Carnegie Institution for Science; Harvard University; the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute; the Smithsonian Institution; Texas A&M University; the University of Chicago; the University of Texas, Austin; and Universidade de São Paulo.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A donation from Richard F. Caris in support of the UA's commitment to the Giant Magellan Telescope project will ensure valuable access for University astronomers.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Ancient Wisdom Boosts Sustainability of Biotech Cotton

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 18:22

Advocates of biotech crops and those who favor traditional farming practices such as crop diversity often seem worlds apart, but a new study shows that these two approaches can be compatible.

An international team led by Chinese scientists and Bruce Tabashnik at the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences discovered that the diverse patchwork of crops in northern China slowed adaptation to genetically engineered cotton by a wide-ranging insect pest. The results are published in the advance online edition of Nature Biotechnology.

Genetically engineered cotton, corn and soybean produce proteins from the widespread soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that kill certain insect pests but are harmless to most other creatures including people. These environmentally friendly toxins have been used by organic growers in sprays for decades and by mainstream farmers in engineered Bt crops since 1996.

Planted on a cumulative total of more than half a billion hectares worldwide during the past two decades, Bt crops can reduce use of broadly toxic insecticides and increase farmers' profits. However, rapid evolution of resistance to Bt toxins by some pests has reduced the benefits of this approach.

To delay resistance, farmers plant refuges of insect host plants that do not make Bt toxins, which allows survival of insects that are susceptible to the toxins. When refuges near Bt crops produce many susceptible insects, it reduces the chances that two resistant insects will mate and produce resistant offspring. In the United States, Australia and most other countries, farmers were required to plant refuges of non-Bt cotton near the first type of Bt cotton that was commercialized, which produces one Bt toxin named Cry1Ac. Planting such non-Bt cotton refuges is credited with preventing evolution of resistance to Bt cotton by pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) in Arizona for more than a decade.

Yet in China, the world's number one cotton producer, refuges of non-Bt cotton have not been required. The Chinese approach relies on the previously untested idea that refuges of non-Bt cotton are not needed there because the most damaging pest, the cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), feeds on many crops other than cotton that do not make Bt toxins, such as corn, soybean and peanuts. The results reported in the new study provide the first strong evidence that these "natural refuges" of non-Bt crops other than cotton delay evolution of pest resistance to Bt cotton.

Tabashnik used computer simulations to project the consequences of different assumptions about the effects of natural refuges in northern China. The simulations mimic the biology of the cotton bollworm and the planting patterns of the 10 million farmers in northern China from 2010 to 2013, where Bt cotton accounts for 98 percent of all cotton, but cotton represents only 10 percent of the area planted with crops eaten by the cotton bollworm.

"Because nearly all of the cotton is Bt cotton, the simulations without natural refuges predicted that resistant insects would increase from one percent of the population in 2010 to more than 98 percent by 2013," said Tabashnik, who heads the UA's Department of Entomology and also is a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute. "Conversely, resistance barely increased under the most optimistic scenario modeled, where each hectare of the 90 percent natural refuge was equivalent to a hectare of non-Bt cotton refuge."

In a third scenario, the researchers used field data on emerging cotton bollworms from different crops to adjust the contribution of each hectare of natural refuge relative to non-Bt cotton. These data were provided by co-author Kongming Wu of the Institute of Plant Protection in Beijing. By this method, the total natural refuge area was equivalent to a 56 percent non-Bt cotton refuge, and 4.9 percent of the insects were predicted to be resistant by 2013.

To distinguish between these possibilities, a team led by co-author Yidong Wu of China's Nanjing Agricultural University tracked resistance from 2010 to 2013 at 17 sites in six provinces of northern China. Insects were collected from the field and more than 70,000 larvae were tested in laboratory feeding experiments to determine if they were resistant. This extensive monitoring showed that the percentage of resistant insects increased from one percent of the population in 2010 to 5.5 percent in 2013.

The field data imply that the natural refuges of non-Bt crops other than cotton delayed resistance with an effect similar to that of a 56 percent non-Bt cotton refuge, just as the model predicted.

"Our results mean we are getting a better understanding of what is going on," Tabashnik said. "We'd like to encourage further documentation work to track these trends. The same kind of analysis could be applied in areas in the U.S. where the natural refuge strategy is used.

"Natural refuges help, but are not a permanent solution," he added. "The paper indicates that if the current trajectory continues, more than half of the cotton bollworm population in northern China will be resistant to Bt cotton in a few years."

To avoid this, the authors recommend switching to cotton that produces two or more Bt toxins and integrating Bt cotton with other control tactics, such as biological control by predators and parasites.

"The most important lesson is that we don't need to choose between biotechnology and traditional agriculture," Tabashnik said. "Instead, we can use the best practices from both approaches to maximize agricultural productivity and sustainability."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Combining computer modeling and field research on cotton pests, a UA-led study suggests that biotechnology and traditional agriculture can be compatible approaches toward sustainable agriculture.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Pucker Up: Five Fast Facts About Mistletoe

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 18:18

It's the holiday symbol for romance that has sparked countless smooches.

But did you know that mistletoe is actually a parasite? Or that some species of this plant so often associated with winter actually thrive in the desert Southwest? Where did the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate, anyway?

In the spirit of the holiday season, Rick Gibson, director of Cooperative Extension in Pinal County for the University of Arizona, shares some interesting facts about this iconic plant.

1. Mistletoe steals water and nutrients from other plants.

Although it's known for its romantic associations, mistletoe is anything but loving. In fact, it's actually a parasite.

Mistletoe attaches itself to other plants and shrubs, stealing away its host's food and water. This can lead to the host plant's weakening, disfigurement and eventual death.

"When you get a heavy infestation, it keeps sucking strength away from the plant," Gibson said. "It's almost like a cancerous type of growth."

Unlike many other parasitic plants, mistletoe has chlorophyll, so it can also produce food from the sun's energy through photosynthesis.

2. There are about a dozen species of mistletoe in the Southwest.

Mistletoe is found all over the world. While it's often associated with winter, mistletoe has several species that thrive in the desert Southwest's warm and dry climate.

"There are different types of mistletoe worldwide," Gibson said. "The ones here in the desert are specific to our desert trees. We aren't immune to them."

Palo verde, mesquite, ironwood, pine, juniper and other types of desert trees often are infested with mistletoe.

3. Not all mistletoe is pretty.

Do you picture a sprig of bright-green leaves when you think of mistletoe? That's not always the case.

"There's so many different types," Gibson said. "The type we use at Christmas time has the nice, broad leaves. It looks attractive, and it has a nice place in our culture, but it's still a parasite."

The kind of mistletoe that's picked and sold during the holidays typically is plucked from trees such as cottonwood, sycamore, willow and ash. While some species of mistletoe have large leaves, others are leafless.

Here in the desert, you've probably seen mistletoe without even realizing it. If you've ever seen a palo verde tree with a dense bundle of woody twigs attached, that bundle is probably mistletoe.

4. Mistletoe spreads its love thanks to birds.

Most species of mistletoe produce small berries that are white, pinkish or green-tinged. Gibson says that these berries are delicious to birds.

When the berries are eaten, they stick to the birds' beaks and feet. The birds then carry the berries to other plants and trees, where the mistletoe can attach and sprout.

After birds eat mistletoe berries, the parasite also can spread through the birds' droppings.

5. Mistletoe is very, very hard to get rid of.

Gibson likens mistletoe to a weed that's extremely difficult and time consuming to get rid of.

First, it tends to grow up high in the canopy where the sunlight hits, making it hard to access. Secondly, even if you prune it, buds embedded in the host plant's branches mean it's likely to grow back.

"What we have to do with mistletoe, if you're going to do it right, is cut down into the branch just a little bit — not too deep, because then we'll weaken the branch — and try to get out those buds that are right at the surface," Gibson says.

Gibson says another technique is to trim the mistletoe back, then wrap the area in dark, light-excluding plastic sheeting to deprive the buds of sunlight, eventually killing the parasite. It can take up to two years for the mistletoe buds to completely die.

Another option? Remove the infected branch entirely. However, this method can leave the plant vulnerable to other diseases and wood-destroying insects.

So how exactly did a parasitic plant become associated with locking lips during the holidays?

While reports vary, some say the tradition originated from the Roman pagans' festival of Saturnalia, a weeklong celebration to honor the deity Saturn that occurred around our present-day observance of Christmas and New Year's.

Others say it started in the late 18th century with the English concept of the "kissing ball," a bundle of mistletoe and evergreens. It was said that a kiss under the kissing ball signified lasting romance, friendship and goodwill.

Whatever the tradition's origins, and despite its parasitic properties, mistletoe has been associated with love, fertility, peace and life-giving power in various cultures around the world for centuries.

Categories: Arts and HumanitiesThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: ResearchStaffByline: Amanda Ballard, University Relations - CommunicationsUANow Image: Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: yesDate of Publication: Wednesday, December 17, 2014Medium Summary: It's the holiday symbol for romance, but did you know it's a parasite? UA Cooperative Extension agent Rick Gibson shares some of his knowledge about the iconic plant.Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: Did you know that mistletoe is actually a parasite?Send to Never Settle Site: 0

SBS Advisory Council Delivers Holiday Cheer

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 15:36

Last week, Margaret Yrun had a tough time working in her office amid all the Hello Kitty dolls, hula hoops, Nerf footballs and canned goods.

It was all for a good cause. Yrun, academic program coordinator for the Department of Mexican American Studies and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Shayna Walker, program coordinator for the Department of Linguistics, spearheaded the second annual adopt-a-school holiday program run by the SBS Staff Advisory Council.

Each SBS department has a council representative and collected donations to the drive. Last year, gifts were distributed to 10 families at Nash Elementary in Tucson's Amphitheater School District. This year, about $3,000 in food, toys and gift cards was collected for families at Peter Howell Elementary in the Tucson Unified School District.

On Monday, representatives from the council delivered the goods and the good cheer.

"It was amazing," Walker said. "While delivering all of the donations to a small classroom, we passed some children in the hallway. Their eyes lit up and they were so excited, even though they had no idea these items were for them and their families." 

Tina Schivone, a community representative and volunteer coordinator for the school, thanked SBS for its "incredibly generous" donation.

"We distribute the donations to as many families as possible: single parents, grandparents who have stepped up to raise their grandkids, families in transition and other hardship circumstances such as evictions," Schivone said.

"We do our best to help those with the greatest need. This is truly what the holiday season is all about."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: College of Social and Behavioral SciencesHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Students and families at Peter Howell Elementary School in Tucson receive an estimated $3,000 in food, toys and gift cards.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Meet the UA's 2014 Regents' Professors

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:56

The designation of Regents' Professor, voted on by the Arizona Board of Regents, is an honored position reserved for faculty scholars of exceptional ability who have achieved national and international distinction.

The highest honor for faculty in the Arizona state university system, it was bestowed on climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck and anthropologist Mary C. Stiner for 2014. They were honored last week on campus, and their selection brought to 97 the University of Arizona's number of Regents' Professors since the designation was created in 1987. 

Overpeck, a professor of geosciences, has a joint appointment in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and holds the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair. He is an internationally recognized authority on the science and policy of climate and environmental change.

Stiner studies the evidence of Mediterranean cultures spanning the Middle Paleolithic period and the Stone Age. Her seminal book on Neanderthals, "Honor Among Thieves," is recommended reading for students of prehistoric anthropology all over the world. 

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsScience and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  2014 Regents' Professors Video of 2014 Regents' Professors Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: YesMedium Summary: They're Mary C. Stiner and Jonathan Overpeck, and a pair of video profiles take you into their respective worlds of anthropology and climate science. UANow Image: Date of Publication: Monday, December 15, 2014Send to Never Settle Site: 0

AHSC Report Outlines Achievements, Plans

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 14:38

A just-published annual report from the Arizona Health Sciences Center highlights many of its programs, major accomplishments and plans for growth, as AHSC seeks to deliver on the goals outlined in the University of Arizona’s "Never Settle" strategic plan.

Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, who became UA senior vice president for health sciences a little more than a year ago, worked closely with the five UA health sciences colleges, as well as with centers and units across campus and beyond, to identify four areas of biomedical research excellence on which AHSC will focus its efforts:

  • Health disparities
  • Population health and health outcomes
  • Precision health
  • Neuroscience

These targeted areas of excellence will help accelerate AHSC’s efforts to positively impact health care in our state and nation, expand its sponsored research portfolio, and improve the quality and diversity of Arizona’s health professions workforce.

"This is a very exciting time at the University of Arizona," Garcia said. "I continue to be impressed by the pioneering spirit of our institution and the willingness of people here to reach out and work across disciplines and geography. The talent, creativity and breadth of activities among our faculty, students and staff are something to showcase to the state and nation."

To view an electronic version of the AHSC Annual Report, please go to:

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: Arizona Health Sciences CenterHeader image: NoNo Image: Subheading: Four areas of biomedical research are identified as targeted areas of excellence for the center.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

How Does a Museum Travel the Country?

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 10:06

Most people know the Arizona State Museum for its vast anthropological collections and Southwestern exhibits.

Within its brick walls on the University of Arizona campus, curators and conservators care for more than 3 million objects, including Southwest Indian pottery, photographic records and other historical artifacts.

However, some people may not realize that the ASM is much more than a brick-and-mortar institution.

In addition to conducting research and ongoing excavations across the Southwest, and providing public programs to the local community, the ASM partners with other institutions across the country to borrow and lend rare items.

Borrowing between museums happens frequently. For example, organizers for a pottery exhibit may call the ASM requesting a specific vessel from its collections. The length of time for the loan can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.

These swaps help museums fuse partnerships and share knowledge.

ASM director Patrick Lyons says that as a leading anthropological museum, the ASM's duties not only include serving the local region but educating others about the region as well.

"The Arizona State Museum is the preeminent institution engaged in the anthropology and history of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico," Lyons said.

"My stated priorities for ASM are continued excellence and increasing relevance," he said. "I believe how well ASM communicates and collaborates with its many constituencies, including — and perhaps most importantly — Arizona's tribal communities, is in large part what makes it both excellent and relevant."

Between 2011 and 2014, the ASM loaned objects to 17 institutions, including the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, the Tucson International Airport, the New Mexico Museum of History and the U.S. Army.

Most recently, numerous Southwest artifacts were returned to their home at the ASM from the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The ASM also returned around 100 objects to the UAMN, which it had borrowed back in the 1940s and '50s.

During the mid-20th century, most museums desired to have a varied collection of items representing cultures from around the world. Decades later, re-swaps like the one between the ASM and UAMN means more items are coming home to their communities of origin.

Curators at ASM already have begun reintegrating the returned items — pottery, stone tools, textiles and blankets — into the museum's collection. Information about the returned items also will be shared with tribal representatives.

Beyond providing objects on loan, ASM curators and conservators provide training for new and emerging tribal cultural centers, museums, libraries and archives around Arizona. They also help colleagues at other museums with analyzing objects and solving difficult conservation issues.

Previously, the ASM has partnered with the Old Pascua Museum and Yaqui Culture Center in Tucson, the Tohono O'odham Cultural Center and Museum in Topawa, and the Huhugam Heritage Center in Chandler.

Established in 1893 by the Arizona Territorial Legislature, the ASM is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the Southwest. The museum houses the world's largest collection of whole-vessel Southwest Indian pottery.

For more information about the ASM, visit

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Amanda BallardByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: In the past three years, the Arizona State Museum loaned historical objects to 17 institutions around the country.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Economic Impact: The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix/Health Sciences

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 09:41
Date of Publication: Friday, December 12, 2014Story images: Infographic:  UA_COMP_EIR_Infographic.pdf

Eller Expert Bullish on Tucson's Economy

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 15:56

Things are looking up for Tucson, with an economy that is set to grow in 2015 and 2016. That was one of the key takeaways from the recent University of Arizona Eller College of Management annual Economic Outlook Forecast Luncheon.

More than 500 people heard presenters George W. Hammond, director and research professor at Eller's Economic and Business Research Center, and Anthony Chan, chief economist at Chase, share their predictions regarding job growth, the housing sector, the stock market, interest rates and more.

Despite some stumbling at the start of 2014, the year that's mostly behind us has helped set the stage for growth. To put things in perspective, Chan spoke first and provided an in-depth analysis of the national and global economy.

"In 2015, we expect more support from the central banks of Europe and China and less support from the United States," he said. "Such action is likely to generate faster global growth and better-performing equity markets in Europe as the Eurozone recovers to something approaching 1 percent growth.

"As for China, we expect some improvement despite the effects of restructuring of that economy, but acknowledge that financial markets have already front-loaded some of the expected positive monetary and fiscal policy effects."

For the United States, Chan said growth closer to 3 percent is likely as current momentum spills over into 2015, especially as faster consumer spending is supported by the recent plunge in energy prices. 

"Finally, led by Brazil, we expect that Latin America will continue to lag the overall improvement in global economic growth," he said.

Tucson's economy is forecast to expand again next year and "even pick up a little steam," according to Hammond. In his presentation, titled "Battling Headwinds," he gave a comprehensive overview of current economic conditions, breaking down factors that slow growth and pointing to indicators that will fuel acceleration.

Tucson added jobs and residents during the past year, continuing its recovery from the Great Recession.

"The metropolitan area added 4,200 jobs during the past four quarters," Hammond said, "which translates into a rate of 1.2 percent. That job growth is a positive sign, but it was below the state and national growth rates of 2.0 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively."

Most of the job gains during the past year came in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, education and health services, and financial activities. Tucson experienced job losses in construction and manufacturing.

"Construction continues to be the missing link in the recovery, with employment running at levels last seen in the mid-1990s," Hammond said. "Slow population and household gains have dampened residential real-estate activity during the past year."

Also dragging down local growth has been significant federal fiscal drag, in the form of declining employment and reduced federal procurement spending. Federal fiscal drag affects Tucson more than the nation as a whole, because federal activity (civilian and military) represents a larger share of the local economy.

"Indeed, according to the latest data, the federal government sector accounted for 7.7 percent of Tucson’s gross domestic product in 2012, more than double the national share," Hammond said.

The outlook calls for Tucson job growth to gradually improve, rising from 0.8 percent in 2014 to 1.3 percent by 2016. That reflects modest improvements in net migration and less federal fiscal drag. Rising job and population growth raise income gains, which support additional local spending.

During his presentation, Hammond encouraged the audience to utilize the new Making Action Possible for Southern Arizona interactive website, which is at The project, which launched on Dec. 5, is a partnership involving Eller’s Economic and Business Research Center, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

The goal of the site is to measure progress and inspire action. MAP users will find real-time data visualization and analysis for 36 socio-economic indicators grouped into six categories: economy, education, health and social well-being, infrastructure, quality of place, and workforce and demographics. Users can compare southern Arizona to the U.S., states in the West and select metropolitan areas.

"There are so many ways MAP can benefit our community," Hammond said. "Examine the data to drive business decisions, build collaboration or cross-sector partnerships. Or, analyze the data to help shape and pursue effective policies or seek external funding opportunities."

Hammond closed his presentation with an upbeat prediction.

"Overall, Tucson continues to battle headwinds, but the local economy is growing and moving forward," he said.

For more information or to view Hammond’s slide presentation, visit Eller’s Economic and Business Research website.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: Eller College of ManagementExtra Info: 

The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona is internationally recognized for pioneering research, innovative curriculum, distinguished faculty, excellence in management information systems, entrepreneurship and social responsibility. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller undergraduate program No. 11 among public business schools and two of its programs are among the top 20 — Entrepreneurship and MIS. The Eller College of Management supports more than 5,800 undergraduate and 600 graduate students.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA Eller College of Management economist George Hammond and others shared their predictions for the coming year during the recent Economic Outlook Forecast Luncheon. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

UA International Centers Receive Title VI Funds

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 12:57

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy at the University of Arizona have been awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Education for four years of funding, totaling more than $2.5 million. The grants establish the UA as a leader in foreign language instruction and Middle Eastern studies.

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, the grants are designed to "strengthen the capacity and performance of American education in foreign languages, international and area studies, teacher preparation, and international business education." They are funded under five programs authorized by Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The UA received grants under three of the five programs.

CMES, which is housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was named a Title VI National Resource Center, or NRC. These centers are funded to provide research and instruction in foreign languages and international studies, as well as outreach to secondary and elementary schools and to the wider community. CMES also received funds for Foreign Language and Area Studies, or FLAS, fellowships.

CERCLL, housed in the College of Humanities, was named a Title VI Language Resource Center. These centers are funded to develop resources for the teaching and learning of foreign languages at K-16 levels across the U.S. and to promote the learning of languages that are less commonly taught.

Center for Middle Eastern Studies

The UA's Center for Middle Eastern Studies is one of 15 Middle East centers nationally to receive NRC funding and one of 13 to receive FLAS fellowship support in the new grant cycle. The UA has had a National Resource Center in Middle East studies since 1975, making it one of the longest consistently funded NRCs in Middle East studies in the country.

"I’m absolutely thrilled," said Anne Betteridge, director of CMES. "The Title VI National Resource grants are the gold standard in international studies. This is a hugely important form of national recognition, especially given the fact that 100 National Resource Centers representing all areas of the world were funded in this grant cycle, compared to 127 in 2010-13."

NRC funds support the mission of CMES to develop Middle East programs across the UA campus, train students in Middle Eastern languages, and provide outreach to K-12 schools and the community.

Betteridge said the NRC funds also will allow the SBS college to develop the classes "Environmental History of the Middle East" and "Minorities in the Middle East" (the latter taught in Arabic); to hire a new faculty member in environmental studies of the Middle East and North Africa; and to engage in new collaborations with colleagues in the UA College of Education, Cochise College and UA South to internationalize curricula.

The FLAS funds will allow CMES to award 11 academic-year awards to students during each of the four years, and to support intensive language study for at least five students each summer. UA undergraduate and graduate students in any discipline who study Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish can receive FLAS awards. Students also may petition to use the awards to study additional Middle Eastern languages, such as Berber and Kurdish.

"This was a particularly competitive year, and three existing Middle East centers lost their funding," said Scott Lucas, director of the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, which houses CMES. "We are delighted that the UA remains among the elite universities that are National Resource Centers for Middle Eastern Studies and has secured FLAS fellowships for UA graduate and undergraduate students."

Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literary

Established in 2006, CERCLL is a collaborative effort among programs, departments and colleges at the UA and other institutions in the Southwest and beyond. Projects are led by UA faculty in the Colleges of Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Education. Additional partners include organizations on campus working in international education, including CMES, the Office of Global Initiatives and the Confucius Institute, as well as several of the 16 other Language Resource Centers around the U.S.

In the new grant cycle, CERCLL will work more closely with local educational institutions, including UA South and Pima Community College, to expand outreach to underserved and minority student populations.

"Global competencies are an ever-increasing imperative for our students, so we are excited to embrace this priority from the Department of Education, in order to make quality foreign language education accessible to a greater number of students in southern Arizona and beyond," said CERCLL co-director Chantelle Warner

Ten projects will be funded by the grant, including the creation of teacher manuals for developing second- language literacy through digital gaming and the development of a digital archive of authentic interactions between Chinese-language learners and their peers during study abroad.

CERCLL will continue to offer outreach activities for K-16 educators to enable them to better integrate a range of linguistic and culture perspectives into their classrooms. The center’s biennial Intercultural Competence Conference, which draws scholars and teachers from all over the world, will continue with fifth and sixth iterations in 2016 and 2018.

This fall, CERCLL hosted the first hybrid symposium on digital literacies in the second-language classroom. Based on the high levels of interest, two more events are planned for the new grant cycle.

“With only 16 National Language Resource Centers nationwide, CERCLL is a central hub for foreign language education in the Southwest and a force of innovation across the country,” said CERCLL co-director Beatrice Dupuy. “This award is certainly also a testament to UA’s strengths in second-language learning and teaching. We look forward to continuing to foster and contribute to the great work that is being done here.”

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Lori HarwoodByline Affiliation: UA College of Social and Behavioral SciencesHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Grants totaling $2.5 million go to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

New Genome Research Illuminates Bird, Crocodile Evolution

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 12:55

In an era of big data, modern genome sequencing techniques allow individual research groups to sequence whole genomes quickly and cost-effectively, creating the possibility for large-scale genome mapping projects.

The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium, led by Erich Jarvis of Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Duke University, has undertaken just such a project: The international consortium has sequenced the genomes of 48 bird and three crocodile species.

The consortium’s first findings are published today in 28 peer-reviewed papers simultaneously released in scientific journals, including Science, Genome Biology and GigaScience.

The findings illuminate the evolution of the living species that descended from the survivors of the mass extinction that destroyed most of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, with implications for the conservation of modern species and the understanding of vertebrate evolution.

But before the genomes could be analyzed, the massive datasets generated by the project begged a new question: How to securely store the genomic data so that it could be analyzed and shared among the researchers?

A New Day for Data

University of Arizona associate professor Fiona McCarthy, a researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, member of the BIO5 Institute and expert on the chicken genome as a model avian species, has worked on the project since its conception.

"It was obvious to me that the only way we could do this project was to put the data on CoGe," McCarthy said. "It’s one thing to get lots and lots of information. It’s another thing to understand what that information means."

McCarthy immediately recommended to her collaborators that they store the genomic data on CoGe, a comparative genomics platform powered by the iPlant Collaborative. Funded by the National Science Foundation since 2008, iPlant provides the computational capacity and software for researchers to securely store, analyze and share massive datasets.

Developed by Eric Lyons, co-principal investigator of the iPlant Collaborative at the UA, and funded by the National Science Foundation, CoGe is a freely available online platform that enables researchers to securely store whole genomes, share the data among selected parties, compare multiple whole genomes at once, and search for specific genetic sequences.

McCarthy likened the platform to a library in which all the books (genomes) are organized on the shelves, and a search catalog lets researchers find specific pages (genetic sequences).

"CoGe can make everything more efficient so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for and compare information between sequences," she said.

"CoGe is the only tool I’ve seen where you can compare so many different species at once. You can force other genome browser tools to compare two or three genomes at a time. Now we’re looking at 40 bird genomes simultaneously, and the number is just going to go up as we get more sequence data."

McCarthy is a coauthor on three of the publications together with Lyons, an assistant professor also in the UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and member of the BIO5 Institute.

"Our main role was to get the sequence data for all the different genomes organized and all in one place — on CoGe — with the tools so that scientists can ask biological questions about these species," McCarthy said.

With 51 genomes to play with, biological questions abound. The genetic information has important implications for conservation, as well as understanding behavioral traits in modern birds and understanding more about human health.

"We’re looking to understand a lot about vertebrate evolution and development as a whole," McCarthy said. "By comparing genetic information between species on CoGe, researchers can use birds and other animals to understand more about human health and development."

She and Lyons are coauthors on a paper led by Jaime Gongora of the University of Sydney and published in PLoS One describing an area of the crocodilian genome relating to immune function. The information about the genetics of crocodile immunity is applicable to understanding how vertebrate species — including humans — recognize and fight infection.

Understanding the genetic relatedness of living birds such as the California condor can aid in conservation efforts for the species, she noted, while the genome of species such as the zebra finch, a songbird that is taught to sing by its parents, can help researchers understand the brain chemistry of learning.

"There is, of course, huge interest in understanding something about dinosaurs," McCarthy said.

'Jurassic Park' Revisited: Deriving Dinosaur Genomes

Birds and reptiles are the living descendants of the dinosaurs that survived the meteorite-triggered mass extinction that killed off most of the species living 66 million years ago. And of all reptiles, crocodiles are the most closely related to birds.   "These two sets of genomes have allowed researchers to try and reconstruct the dinosaur genome," McCarthy said.

"These two sets of genomes have allowed researchers to try and reconstruct the dinosaur genome," McCarthy said.

Don't let the apparent physical differences deceive you: Millions of years ago, birds and crocodiles were one species, called an archosaur.

With the genomic data for birds and crocodiles available, researchers are trying to reconstruct the archosaur genome. Generating a genome is a far cry from growing a creature, but the jury is still out on whether having a dinosaur genome could eventually lead to growing a dinosaur as in the film "Jurassic Park."

"A creature’s genome constrains the possibilities for what traits might have been expressed," McCarthy said. "Reconstructing a genome tells us what was possible, but we still won’t know how the genes within that genome were expressed and when, which is what realizes the possibilities."

In other words, researchers can understand what traits archosaurs might have had, but they won’t know which traits were expressed.

Still, McCarthy said, "Birds and reptiles have a common ancestor. And we have the technology." Renowned paleontologist Jack Horner has suggested it might be possible to grow a dinosaur from a chicken, let alone the comparable knowledge from 48 avian genomes.

Dino-deriving possibilities aside, the ability to sequence so many genomes and compare them side-by-side opens wide the doors of investigation for a myriad of future studies.

"Now we have so much data, but we’ve got to actually understand what it all means," McCarthy said. "This wealth of information will not only impact our research but also our teaching. We’ve got students working on this data, and new opportunities to work with high school students and their teachers on something interesting for them."

Delving into the bird and crocodile data — now freely available to researchers and the public through the CoGe and Giga websites — may lead to answers to questions genomic biologists have yet to ask.

"That’s what’s really exciting," McCarthy said. "We don’t even know what’s going to come out of it."

Who knows? Maybe someday even an archosaur will be possible.

The bird and crocodile genome sequencing project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in addition to grants to individual research groups. 

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Shelley LittinByline: Shelley LittinByline Affiliation: iPlant CollaborativeHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A massive project has sequenced the genomes of 48 bird and three crocodile species, opening doors to understanding the evolution of dinosaurs’ living descendants. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

UA Recognizes Two Regents' Professors, Four Others

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 18:36

Six University of Arizona faculty members, described as "three elite groups of superstars" by UA President Ann Weaver Hart, were recognized Wednesday at an awards ceremony in Crowder Hall on campus.

The highest honor for faculty in the Arizona state university system, that of Regents' Professor, was bestowed on climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck and anthropologist Mary C. Stiner. Their selection brought to 97 the UA's number of Regents' Professors since the designation was created in 1987.

Overpeck and Steiner were introduced by Rick Myers of the Arizona Board of Regents, which is required to approve nominations for Regents' Professor from the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

UA Provost Andrew Comrie introduced geoscientist Andrew S. Cohen and Shakespearean scholar Frederick P. Kiefer as the 2014 University Distinguished Professors and astronomer Donald W. McCarthy and engineer Supapan Seraphin as this year's University Distinguished Outreach Faculty.

Short video profiles preceded the introduction of each of the six honorees. Here are brief biographies of the six:

  • Overpeck: Professor of geosciences who has a joint appointment in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and holds the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair. Founding co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment. An internationally recognized authority on the science and policy of climate and environmental change.
  • Stiner: Professor in the School of Anthropology who studies the evidence of Mediterranean cultures spanning the Middle Paleolithic period and the Stone Age. Curator of zooarchaeology at the Arizona State Museum. Her seminal book on Neanderthals, "Honor Among Thieves," is recommended reading for students of prehistoric anthropology all over the world. 
  • Cohen: Joint professor of geosciences and ecology and evolutionary biology. Has led teams of researchers into the East African Rift Valley of Kenya and Ethiopia, where he has taken samples from dry lakebeds near fossil and archaeological sites of ancient hominins. Has sought to expand what is known about the climate in which our ancestors evolved.
  • Kiefer: Professor in the Department of English and an expert in the literature and visual culture of the early and modern Renaissance period. Joined the UA faculty in 1973 and is its resident expert on Shakespeare studies, also teaching courses on Renaissance drama. Received the College of Humanities Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008.
  • McCarthy: Arrived at the UA in 1970 as a doctoral student. As a faculty member, has been a significant contributor to the UA's world-renowned infrared astronomy program. His work has led to key findings about nearby stars, asteroids, moons and objects located in the Kuiper belt. Founded an immersive astronomy program for teenagers around the world that involved NASA researchers.
  • Seraphin: Professor of materials science and engineering who is an expert in electron microscopy and carbon nanoclusters. As a Faculty Fellow, has become known for preparing Thai lunches of chicken curry, pad Thai and other dishes for students. Winner of a UA Science & Engineering Excellence Award in 2009 and was named a Da Vinci Fellow by the College of Engineering in 2007.
Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Jonathan Overpeck and Mary C. Stiner receive the state university system's highest honor for faculty, bringing the UA's total of Regents' Professors to 97.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Addressing Poverty, One Data Point at a Time

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 17:35

This spring, University of Arizona undergraduate students taking the "Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop" course will collect, analyze, and present data on local community issues related to poverty.

The course — led by Brian Mayer, an associate professor in the UA School of Sociology, and Julia Smith, a sociology graduate student — is a continuation of a collaboration among the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the city of Tucson and local nonprofit groups through the Mayor's Commission on Poverty.

Mayer, who is one of the inaugural fellows of the UA Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, said the team has two major goals for the workshop course.

"We are preparing students for a career in the social sciences by offering them a unique opportunity to study an important social problem in their community," he said. "Likewise, we will provide data, analyses and interpretation to agencies, nonprofits and the community at large that we believe can help address the problem of poverty locally."

The course furthers the UA's goal of 100% Student Engagement by providing students experience in a research project with value to our community, said Lydia Breunig, director of community outreach and special projects.

"This ongoing project is a great example of how community partnerships advance the University's strategic goals," Breunig said.

During the spring of 2014, students in the "Poverty in American Cities" course interviewed about 200 low-income people in the greater Tucson area as part of a larger study that was submitted to the Mayor's Commission on Poverty. The study was conducted to help it identify and develop practical solutions to poverty in Tucson, which has one of the top 10 poverty rates among the nation's large cities.

"The course changed how I view those who are living in poverty," student Rachael Andrews said. "The people I talked to were not interested in living solely off of welfare. Rather, they were resourceful people who simply wanted to make ends meet."

As part of the collaboration, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences researchers also conducted a multicity analysis of best practices in tackling poverty. Smith led that project with former UA sociology professor Lane Kenworthy.

Students in the 2015 class will collect data on 300 low-income Tucsonans. Also during the 2015 course, data gathered from those Tucsonans will be pooled with the original sample, with the goal of following them over five years and honing in on certain topics such as nutrition, transportation, health and safety, and access to social services. The course will include three weeks of instruction on poverty, three weeks of field training, six weeks of field work and four weeks of data analyses.

The workshop course is being supported by gifts from Habitat for Humanity Tucson, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Lori HarwoodByline: Lori HarwoodByline Affiliation: UA College of Social and Behavioral SciencesExtra Info: 

Students interested in joining the class "Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop" should contact Julia Smith at

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The "Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop" course involves UA students in data collection and analysis, addressing issues associated with poverty in the local region. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

UA Team to Use Social Media in Study of E-Cigarettes

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:31

When Facebook announced in September that it would use all that personal data it collects to roll out a new ad platform to rival Google, privacy advocates groaned and marketers grinned.

But what if all that intelligence could be used to crack open one of today’s most pressing — yet least understood — public health issues?

That’s precisely the vision of the University of Arizona’s Daniel Zeng, MIS professor at the Eller College of Management, and Scott Leischow, adjunct faculty in the UA College of Medicine and professor of health services research at Arizona’s Mayo Clinic.

Fusing cutting-edge informatics and public health, their plan to scrape social media to create the world’s best data on e-cigarette usage and marketing recently won a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The project will tackle four distinct goals. It will:

  • Create a massive, real-time and continuously growing data set of what consumers and marketers say about e-cigarettes on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as social media forums focused on e-cigarettes and "vaping."
  • Mine that content for insights into why people use e-cigarettes, how they believe they affect their health and whether they help them quit smoking.
  • Document the marketing landscape — all the ways brands and vendors use these channels to promote their products and how consumers respond.
  • Integrate all of that information in the world’s first one-stop resource for wide-ranging data on e-cigarettes as revealed through social media as a tool for other researchers, health care professionals and more.

While e-cigarettes are relatively new in the U.S. — they were introduced in 2007 — sales are doubling annually and were expected to reach $1 billion last year. Even so, any time public dollars fund research, two questions naturally arise: Why study this? And why study it this way?

"There’s so much we don’t know about e-cigarettes," Leischow says. "The scientific community has found mixed data on whether they’re helpful for smoking cessation. We have questions about how different flavorings impact use, particularly among minors. And many health professionals worry that e-cigarettes may ultimately lead to more young people taking up smoking. All of these blind spots around a product that is still totally unregulated make this a top-priority area for the FDA."

As for why it makes sense to study e-cigarettes in this way, Zeng’s MIS expertise holds the key.  By mining social media in real time, as Zeng and Leischow have proposed, there are a number of strategic advantages:

  • Data comes from people interacting naturally in their day-to-day lives, thus removing “presentation bias” problems intrinsic in surveys.
  • The data collection is automated, which means sample size is not constrained by how much money or how many eyeball hours researchers can muster.
  • The lack of constraint also makes anecdotal information scientifically relevant: One personal story is just that, but 10,000 or 100,000 personal stories over time equal robust statistical data.
  • Because content is processed by algorithms, not people, data is available in near real time, not months or even years after countless hours of labor-intensive review.

The world of e-cigarettes, like that of any niche product or interest, has its own specialized vocabulary of acronyms and slang, so the research team will first need to construct a base lexical dataset for “training” the computers that will collect and process content.

It’s also one thing to scrape words but a much more complex challenge to automate the process of extracting meaning, so that a computer can spot when someone cites a reason for using e-cigarettes or mentions how the products affect his or her health (both of which first require a computer to detect who is or isn’t a user) or correctly catalog the marketing strategy used in an advertisement.

"We basically will be creating a suite of novel technologies for this study using both established building blocks of informatics and methods that have yet to be developed," Zeng says, "including analysis and visualization tools that were developed here at the U of A. Beyond that, we’re relying on proven tools for pattern mining, group behavior prediction, social network analysis and a lot more, but in ways that have never been combined for this level of research and in this topic area."

For Leischow, the knowledge those tools will produce is invaluable.

"There are all kinds of messages out there, from how effective e-cigarettes can be to help smokers quit tobacco to how they’re totally harmless or taste like candy," he says. "It may be that e-cigarettes prove beneficial to public health, or they may be shown to do more harm than good. In either case, it often takes many years for experts to fully recognize how products are being used and how they impact well-being, and even longer for regulation to catch up.

"This time, it’s going to be different. This time, we’re getting out ahead."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: UA Eller College of ManagementHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will support project that is as much about data-gathering methods as it is about public health.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Yeast Are First Cells Known to Cure Themselves of Prions

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 17:25

Yeast cells can sometimes reverse the protein misfolding and clumping associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to new research from the University of Arizona.

The new finding contradicts the idea that once prion proteins have changed into the shape that aggregates, the change is irreversible.

“It’s believed that when these aggregates arise that cells cannot get rid of them,” said Tricia Serio, UA professor and head of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “We’ve shown that’s not the case. Cells can clear themselves of these aggregates.”

Prions are proteins that change into a shape that triggers their neighbors to change, also. In that new form, the proteins cluster. The aggregates, called amyloids, are associated with diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s.

“The prion protein is kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said Serio, senior author of the paper published today in the open-access journal eLife. “When you get Hyde, all the prion protein that gets made after that is folded in that bad way.”

For yeast, having clumps of amyloid is not fatal. Serio and her students exposed amyloid-containing cells of baker’s yeast to 104 F, a temperature that would be a high fever in a human. When exposed to that environment, the cells activated a stress response that changed the clumping proteins back to the no-clumping shape.

The finding suggests artificially inducing stress responses may one day help develop treatments for diseases associated with misfolded prion proteins, Serio said.

“People are trying to develop therapeutics that will artificially induce stress responses,” she said. “Our work serves as a proof of principal that it’s a fruitful path to follow.”

First author on the paper “Spatial quality control bypasses cell-based limitations on proteostasis to promote prion curing” is Serio’s former graduate student Courtney Klaips, now at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich. The other authors are Serio’s students Megan Hochstrasser, now at the University of California, Berkeley, and Christine Langlois of Brown University.

National Institutes of Health grants R01 GM069802001, F31 AG034754 and F31 GM099383 funded the research. 

To accomplish their jobs inside cells, proteins must fold into specific shapes. Cells have quality-control mechanisms that usually keep proteins from misfolding. However, under some environmental stresses, those mechanisms break down and proteins do misfold, sometimes forming amyloids.

Cells respond to environmental stress by making specific proteins, known as heat-shock proteins, which are known to help prevent protein misfolding.

Serio and her students wanted to know whether particular heat-shock proteins could make amyloids revert to the normal shape. To that end, the team studied yeast cells that seemed unable to clear themselves of the amyloid form of the prion protein Sup35.

The researchers were testing one heat-shock protein at a time in an attempt to figure out which particular proteins were needed to clear the amyloids. However, the results weren’t making sense, she said.

So she and Klaips decided to stress yeast cells by exposing them to a range of elevated temperatures – as much as 104 F — and let the cells do what comes naturally.

As a result, the cells made a battery of heat-shock proteins. The researchers found at one specific stage of the cell’s reproductive cycle, the yeast could turn aggregates of Sup35 back into the non-clumping form of the protein.

Yeast cells reproduce by budding. The mother cell partitions off a bit of itself into a much smaller daughter cell, which separates and then grows up.

The researchers found in the heat-stressed yeast, just when the daughter was being formed, the mother cell retained most of the heat-shock proteins called chaperones, especially Hsp-104. As a result, the mother had a particularly high concentration of Hsp-104 because little of the protein was shared with the daughter.

The mother cells ended up “curing” themselves of the Sup35 amyloid, although the daughters did not. The degree of curing was correlated with the concentration of Hsp-104 in the cell, and the higher the temperature the more Hsp-104 the cells had.

The Hsp-104 takes the protein in the amyloid and refolds it, Serio said. But she and her colleagues found that just inducing high levels of Hsp-104 in cells by itself does not change the amyloid protein back to the non-clumping form.

“Clearly the heat-shock proteins are collaborating in some way that we don’t understand,” she said.

Having the amyloid-forming version of the protein is not automatically bad, she said. It may be that shape is good under some environmental conditions, whereas the non-aggregating form is good under others.

Even in humans, amyloid forms of a protein can be helpful, she said. Amyloid proteins are associated with skin pigmentation and with hormone storage.

To clear the amyloid from yeast cells, these experiments triggered cells to make many different heat-shock proteins.

Serio now wants to figure out the minimal system necessary to clear amyloids from a cell. Knowing that may help the development of drug therapies for amyloid-related human diseases, she said. 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Mari N. JensenByline Affiliation: UA College of ScienceExtra Info: 

Tricia Serio


Link to research paper

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: In clusters called amyloids, prion proteins are associated with diseases including Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Carmona Calls for Greater Attention to Vets' Issues

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 13:37

The scars of battle — and not merely the physical ones — were the subject of a keynote address by Dr. Richard Carmona at the recent Southern Arizona Military/Veteran Community Summit on the University of Arizona campus.

Carmona, 65, who served as U.S. surgeon general in the George W. Bush administration, drew heavily from his Army career in his remarks. A high school dropout, he enlisted at age 17 and went on to serve in Vietnam. He began his medical career as a Special Forces medic.

"That platform helped me for the rest of my life," Carmona said of his military service. "Everything became about completing a mission."

After leaving the Army, Carmona attended community college in his native New York on the GI Bill and went on receive bachelor's and medical degrees from the University of California, San Francisco. He has a master's degree in public health from the UA and is now a Distinguished Professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

He said "there is no higher calling" than taking care of those who have served and sacrificed for their country. 

"The ramifications of war last far beyond the end of any conflict," Carmona said. "It is our responsibility to ensure that every one of these gets every bit of support needed.

"It's not all about the war fighter. It's also about their families. This is a family issue."

Carmona said there is much greater awareness of veterans' issues today than there was when he returned from Vietnam. But he said the mental-health struggles experienced by veterans — of which post-traumatic stress disorder is only one — demand a deeper understanding.

"One of the things we must do is stop the stigmatization of mental-health problems," he said. "It's killing us. Mental health needs to be treated like any other disease."

Carmona, whose four-year tenure as surgeon general was marked by political battles over issues such as stem-cell research, contraception and secondhand smoke, said there should be no room for the "embarrassment" of partisanship regarding veterans.

"We need to embrace each and every one who comes home," he said. "There's nothing more important.... Both parties need to be holding hands on this.

"I do everything I can every day to shine a light on the great sacrifices of my brothers and sisters in the armed services. I really am just another veteran."

The summit was sponsored by the Arizona Coalition for Military Families, a public-private partnership focused on building statewide support for service members, veterans and their families. For more information about the coalition, go to 

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: In an address on the UA campus, the former U.S. surgeon general says "the ramifications of war last far beyond the end of any conflict." Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no