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Biology Top Stories

  • Conus shells on display in the south biology building at the University of Utah in 2015.Could snail venom replace addictive opioid painkillers?

    A handful of University of Utah researchers for years have investigated the venom of marine snails and how it might be transformed into a safer alternative to opioid painkillers. Now, they have new backing to expand their research. The U. this week said it has received $10 million from the Department of Defense to further study cone snail venom and search for similar compounds from the venom of other marine organisms. Years from now, they hope, a synthetic version of the venom will become a substitute for drugs like morphine, fentanyl and oxycodone. “We’re going back to natural sources to find the next generation of pain drugs,” said Russell Teichert, a research associate professor in the Department of Biology.

  • Randy Rasmussen and Denise DearingAlumni Spotlight: Randy Rasmussen

    Many of today’s most successful companies were created by groups of friends: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started HP in a garage in Palo Alto; Microsoft was cofounded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, childhood friends from Lakewood, Washington; and Google established by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, part of the same Ph.D. cohort at Stanford.

  • Nitin PhadnisFaculty Spotlight: Nitin Phadnis

    Nitin Phadnis, an Assistant Professor of Biology, is trying to solve a genetics puzzle that has eluded scientists, and philosophers, for nearly two centuries – how do two species evolve from one species? It is well known that speciation – the process by which one species splits into two – involves the evolution of reproductive isolating barriers such as the sterility or inviability of hybrids between certain populations.

  • A species of herbivore (a larva from the genus of butterfly Synargis) being tended by an ant (of the species Ectatomma tuberculatum.) They are on one of the study species, Inga thiboudiana.Evolutionary Arms 'Chase'

    In nature, plants engage in a never-ending battle to avoid being eaten. Unable to run away, plant species have evolved defenses to deter herbivores; they have spines, produce nasty chemicals, or grow tough leaves that are difficult to chew. For years, scientists have assumed that herbivores and plants are locked into evolutionary competition in which a plant evolves a defense, the herbivore evolves a workaround, and so on.

  • James KeenerMelding Math and Biology

    Your body is full of math. From the constant flow of molecules in and out of your cells to the nerve signals zipping through your brain, your physiological processes can be described in terms of mathematical terms and models. It’s an approach to biology and physiology that moves from observational science into fundamental physical principles, according to some mathematicians, including the University of Utah’s James Keener. This week, Keener and his fellow mathematical biologists gather at the U for the 2017 annual meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology. As part of the proceedings, the society will award Keener the inaugural John Jungck Prize for Excellence in Education. Keener recently spoke with @theU.

  • Long-legged BuzzardHawkWatch International Partners with the University of Utah to Study Raptors in Africa

    HawkWatch International and the University of Utah are partnering on two studies in the Horn of Africa: a new effort studying raptor migration over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in Djibouti, and a continuation of vulture extinction studies based in Ethiopia. Evan Buechley, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah, will manage the two projects in conjunction with HawkWatch International scientists and University of Utah Biology Professor Cagan Sekercioglu.

  • WoodratWoodrats Can't Stomach Favorite Foods at High Temps

    You’d think desert woodrats already had a lot of adversity. Besides the constant threat of coyotes and other predators and the scorching Mojave Desert heat, their primary source of food is the creosote bush, or chaparral – a plant so toxic that few other animals will even go near it. But the woodrats’ unique adaptation that allows them to break down creosote toxins may be in jeopardy if temperatures continue to rise, according to University of Utah researchers. Their new study in Molecular Ecology explains why: Livers of mammals (including us) may be less efficient at breaking down toxins at higher temperatures.

  • Sophie CaronFaculty Spotlight: Sophie Caron

    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.

  • Pathways to StemPathways to Stem

    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.

  • Ryan WattsAlumni Spotlight: Ryan Watts

    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.

Last Updated: 12/21/16