Sophie Caron, an Assistant Professor of Biology, was recently appointed as the Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair in the Biology Department. The prestigious faculty appointment will allow Caron to launch a highly innovative research program. Since joining the faculty in 2015, Caron has begun an enormous and long-term research project – understanding how the human brain works – by investigating some of the smallest minds in the business.
For the six years of her son’s short life, Cristin Dixon learned everything she could about neurodegenerative brain disorders, hoping to find a diagnosis. When he passed away three and a half years ago, she still had no definitive answer as to what had afflicted him. “For six years I took care of him 24 hours a day,” Dixon said. “I was his caretaker, his advocate.” She is not done yet. Now a student at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), Dixon is determined to help other families in the same situation by becoming a medical researcher. She plans to transfer to the University of Utah next fall to complete a four-year degree and work toward medical school. Confronting her will be a bewildering array of regulations and complicated transfer arrangements that will prove challenging to navigate.
Dr. Ryan Watts, BS’00 in Biology, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Denali Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on finding treatments and cures for neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Watts and his colleagues at Denali are passionate about discovering drug therapies to help over 22 million people across the world who are fighting crippling neurodegenerative illnesses. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases are reaching epidemic proportions. Expressed solely in financial terms, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to exceed $260 billion by 2020 in the U.S. alone.
In summer 2010, Los Angeles was losing about 100 gallons of water per person per day to the atmosphere through the evaporation and plant uptake of lawns and trees. Lawns accounted for 70 percent of the water loss, while trees accounted for 30 percent, according to a University of Utah study published in Water Resources Research.
The results, based on measurements taken before Los Angeles enacted mandatory watering restrictions in 2014, shows a pattern of systemic overwatering in the city’s lawns, and a surprising water efficiency in tree cover. Further, the researchers found a correlation between water loss and household income.
“The soil was so moist that plants were not limited in water use,” says Elizaveta Litvak, postdoctoral scholar and first author of the new study. “It was the maximum water loss possible.”
While studying scavenger behavior in Utah’s Great Basin Desert, University of Utah biologists observed an American badger do something that no other scientists had documented before: bury an entire calf carcass by itself. Watch a video of the badger here. While badgers and their relatives are known to cache food stores, this is the first known instance of a badger burying an animal larger than itself. The finding suggests that badgers may have no limit to the size of animal they can cache, and that they may play an important role in sequestering large carcasses, which could benefit cattle ranchers in the West. The study is published in Western North American Naturalist.
William “Bill” Anderegg, Assistant Professor of Biology, studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling, and biosphere-atmosphere feedback systems.
“Our research focuses around a central question: What is the future of forests in a changing climate?” says Anderegg.
Utah is well known for its pristine forests. In fact, Utah contains about 7.8 million acres of national forests and is home to the largest aspen tree grove in the world.
Walking on our heels, a feature that separates great apes, including humans, from other primates, confers advantages in fighting, according to a new University of Utah study published Feb. 15 in Biology Open. Although moving from the balls of the feet is important for quickness, standing with heels planted allows more swinging force, according to study lead author and biologist David Carrier, suggesting that aggression may have played a part in shaping our stance.
“This story is one more piece in a broader picture, a suite of distinguishing characters that are consistent with idea that we’re specialized at some level for aggressive behavior,” Carrier says.
What would you do if you suddenly ran into the king of beasts on a dark road in Ethiopia? Scream? Run? Faint?
Not Çağan Şekercioğlu. Instead, he took a deep breath and kept his camera rolling from inside his vehicle, capturing a rare video of an Ethiopian lion. (See 15 intimate portraits of lions.)
Şekercioğlu, a National Geographic Explorer and ornithologist at the University of Utah, recently traveled to the Bale Mountains National Park to study the long-term effects of climate change on birds. On the long drives between birding sites, he also conducted mammal road surveys.
The goal of the project is to reduce the risk of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) through smart technology that collects sensory data to predict and characterize impacts in real-time, optimizes protective mechanisms based on impact characteristics (e.g., direction, velocity), and transmits final impact attributes to a database for further analysis and injury risk prediction.
Scientists from the University of Utah and University of Washington have developed blueprints that instruct human cells to assemble a virus-like delivery system that can transport custom cargo from one cell to another. As reported online in Nature on Nov. 30, the research is a step toward a nature-inspired means for delivering therapeutics directly to specific cell types within the body.