Regenerating damaged heart tissue. Sound Fishy? (It is)

REGENERATING DAMAGED HEART TISSUE. SOUND FISHY? (IT IS)


April 18, 2024

Utah biologists discover that tiny tropical fish's "superpower" lies in an immune response to heart injuries.

Clayton Carey, a postdoctoral researcher in the Gagnon lab and lead author on the new study. Credit here and above: Brian Maffly

A heart attack will leave a permanent scar on a human heart, yet other animals, including some fish and amphibians, can clear cardiac scar tissue and regrow damaged muscle as adults.

Scientists have sought to figure out how special power works in hopes of advancing medical treatments for human cardiac patients, but the great physiological differences between fish and mammals make such inquiries difficult.

So University of Utah biologists, led by assistant professor Jamie Gagnon, tackled the problem by comparing two fish species: zebrafish, which can regenerate its heart, and medaka, which cannot.

A tale of two fish

The team identified a few possible explanations, mostly associated with the immune system, for how zebrafish fix cardiac tissue, according to newly published research.

“We thought by comparing these two fish that have similar heart morphology and live in similar habitats, we could have a better chance of actually finding what the main differences are,” said Clayton Carey, a postdoctoral researcher in the Gagnon lab and lead author on the new study.

Gagnon’s team wasn’t able to solve the mystery—yet—but their study shed new light on the molecular and cellular mechanisms at play in zebrafish’s heart regeneration.

“It told us these two hearts that look very similar are actually very different,” Gagnon said.

Both members of the teleost family of ray-finned fish, zebrafish (Danio rerio) and medaka (Oryzias latipes) descended from a common ancestor that lived millions of years ago. Both are about 1.5 inches long, inhabit freshwater and are equipped with two-chamber hearts. Medaka are native to Japan and zebrafish are native to the Ganges River basin.

According to the study, the existence of non-regenerating fish presents an opportunity to contrast the differing responses to injury to identify the cellular features unique to regenerating species. Gagnon suspects heart regeneration is an ancestral trait common to all teleosts.

Understanding the evolutionary path that led to the loss of this ability in some teleost species could offer parallel insights into why mammals cannot regenerate as adults.

With their distinctive horizontal stripes, zebrafish have long been popular as pets in the United States. In the 1970s zebrafish were embraced by biologists as a model organism for studying embryonic development of vertebrates.

Scientists like zebrafish because they can be propagated by the thousands quickly in labs, are easy to study and proved to be extremely hardy.

Read the full story by Brian Maffly in @The U

Gentrification drives patterns of alpha and beta diversity in cities

Gentrification drives patterns of alpha and beta diversity in cities


April 18, 2024
Photo: Mountain lion in the Wasatch Mountains. Credit: Austin Green.

Over the past two decades, a return of investment and development to once-neglected neighborhoods has meant a significant increase in spending on restoring parks, planting trees and converting power and sewer easements into publicly accessible greenspaces.

That trend — sometimes called “green gentrification” — tended to raise property values, helping to price out many neighborhoods’ original inhabitants. That led to an obvious question: What had those changes done to local animal populations, and what might that say about the changing dynamics of how nature functions in American cities?

This requires a staggeringly complicated analysis, and a new study published earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a vast and diverse array of data includes nearly 200,000 days of camera trap surveillance, taken over three years across almost 1,000 sites in 23 U.S. cities each with a unique mammal population, pattern of urban development and interaction between the two.

Austin Green, PhD

Some of that data have been accumulated by conservation ecologist Austin Green, a post-doctoral researcher and Human/Wildlife Coexistence stream leader in the acclaimed Science Research Initiative (SRI) at the College of Science. Leveraging the citizen science movement in the intermountain region, Green and his SRI team played a critical role in assembling a cohesive, detailed data-driven narrative of how gentrification  — when lower-income people are forced out from American neighborhoods — the animal populations in the areas they’re leaving behind shift toward local species less typically associated with city environments. In turn, this phenomenon adds to the larger conversation in the U.S. about the reach and complexity of racial inequity.

Green's research is part of a monumental effort to collect and interpret data that have global implications about how humans and wildlife co-exist, especially in this case, as it relates to the continuing gentrification of cities, where more than 58 percent of the world population lives. Informed by Green's work in the SRI program combined with that of many others', scientific breakthroughs, as illustrated in the PNAS study, can directly influence conservation and adaptive management strategies.

Students in this particular stream at the U learn about wildlife ecology and conservation, as well as how to conduct ecological fieldwork, design complex studies of animal behavior and human-wildlife coexistence, curate and format large scale-datasets, and conduct advanced statistical analysis.

 

You can read the full article by SAUL ELBEIN in The Hill about this fascinating research and its findings published in PNAS here.

 

 

Biology Student Stories: Bailey Landis

Biology Student Stories: Bailey Landis


April 3, 2024

by Maisy Webb

From playing the clarinet and majoring in music to finding inspiration in deciphering the As, Ts, Gs, and Cs relevant to fruit fly evolution and genetics, Bailey Landis has many interests but has dedicated his educational pursuits to biology.

The “major” shift happened when Bailey took Genetics from Nitin Phadnis. That was the moment he realized he loved biology and wanted to give research a try.

Bailey asked Phadnis if he knew of any lab openings, and the very next day he entered the research world…in the Phadnis lab! “Even though research was new to me, I was given the opportunity to jump into cutting-edge science. I immediately began investigating the genetic basis of a hybrid incompatibility between two subspecies of Drosophila.” Bailey artfully explained that “When two populations of a species are isolated from each other, they rapidly evolve [and this can] lead to speciation.” Deciphering the molecular and genetic basis of this process is the focus of the Phadnis lab.

Bailey finds the lab environment “unequivocally amazing” and  “is inspired by the motivation and drive of his peers in the lab.” He says, “Whenever you are doing something, people want you to do well ... and are not hoping for your downfall. So I have gotten courage knowing when I am presenting or doing something scary that people are hoping to see me succeed.”

Bailey has gained an appreciation for the collaborative nature of science, receiving mentorship and mastering new techniques with support from two other biology professors, Kent Golic and Clayton Dale. As it goes in research, things often don’t work and you always have to be on the lookout for something unexpected, Bailey shared. “I became frustrated that my hard work had yielded no results and began doubting whether the X-ray machine was working correctly. I examined the neuroblasts of mutagenized males, looking for fragmented chromosomes to ensure that the genetic material was being irradiated. ... My irradiation approach was simple and reliable [yet] lacked efficiency, relying on randomly mutating a single gene out of over 13,000. I felt like I was waiting for an accident and wanted my approach to be more precise. I returned to the drawing board, searching for a more efficient way to identify this gene. I pivoted to a targeted deletion system using CRISPR/Cas-9.”

Bailey’s enthusiasm and dedication has led to an evolution in his knowledge, which will definitely give him a head start when he begins his PhD in biology, at the U, in the fall of 2024.

Bailey is from Chico, California. When he’s not in the lab, you can find Bailey indulging his many other interests from drawing and painting, fly fishing, working on his jiu jitsu, snowboarding, and cooking lots of different dishes!

 

This article originally appeared at the School of Biological Sciences

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Hunting an underground epidemic

Hunting an underground epidemic


April 3, 2024

Above: The research team outside Toquerville, UT. Left to right: Kimberly Hanson; Kevin Perry; Alyssa McCoy; Katrina Derieg; and Schuyler Liphardt.

In 2001, 10 archaeologists working at a dig site in northeastern Utah suddenly fell ill with a respiratory illness that sent eight of them to the hospital, coughing and feverish.

The symptoms resembled pneumonia, but their diagnosis was unexpected. It was Valley fever, a fungal infection that spreads to people through spores in the soil and dust—and it wasn’t supposed to be there. Valley fever is more common in hotter, drier states; previous predictions of where the fungus could survive in the soil barely extended into the southwest corner of Utah. The archaeologists’ dig site, in Dinosaur National Monument, was hundreds of miles outside the disease’s expected borders.

The truth is, nobody really knows which areas of the state harbor Valley fever. But the archaeologists’ plight shows that its fungal culprit could be far more widespread than anyone predicted. And as the climate changes, the fungus will likely spread further, explained Katharine Walter, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah.

A person bends over samples in a shade tent.

PHOTO CREDIT: KATRINA DERIEG

Eric Rickart in the field outside Santa Clara, UT.

 DOWNLOAD FULL-RES IMAGE

“There have been incredibly intense recent changes in temperature as well as precipitation and drought here in the American West. These all impact the range of where the fungus can exist,” said Walter.

Walter is on a mission to map where in Utah the Valley fever fungus can survive and predict how it will move across the landscape as the climate changes. Walter and her collaborators—Katrina Derieg, vertebrate collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah; Eric Rickart, adjunct associate professor of biology at the U and curator of vertebrates at NHMU; and Kevin Perry, professor of atmospheric sciences in the U’s College of Mines and Earth Sciences—recently received a $375,000 Climate and Health Interdisciplinary Award through the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to power their fungus hunt and raise awareness of what to do for the people most at risk of infection.

Read the full story by University of Utah Health's Sophia Friesen in @TheU

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Utah Symposium in Science & Literature

Utah Symposium in Science and Literature


March 27, 2024

Poet Claudia Rankine, physicist Brian Greene, and neuroscientist and artist Bevil Conway are the keynote speakers for this year’s Utah Symposium in Science and Literature, taking place from April 10-12 at the Eccles Alumni House on campus.

Claudia Rankine is the author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” a New York Times bestseller, as well as four other books of poetry and three plays. She is the founder of The Racial Imaginary Institute, an NEA fellow, a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and a professor at NYU. Brian Greene is renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory and is known to the public through his books, “The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos,” and “The Hidden Reality,” which have collectively spent 65 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. He is a professor of physics and mathematics and the director of Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Physics. Bevil Conway is a senior investigator at the National Eye Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health, and an expert on the neuroscience of color. His artwork is in the Boston Public Library, the Fogg University Art Rental Collection, the N.I.H. Building 35 Public Art Collection, and many private collections.

The Utah Symposium returns this year after a long Covid hiatus, and will feature the involvement of U professors and grad students from numerous departments and disciplines, from English to math to music to philosophy. The theme of this year’s Symposium is “Mere Beauty,” a topic arising from the reexaminations of beauty occurring not only in the arts and humanities, but also in biology, where dominant theories about the possible evolutionary purposes of beauty are being questioned.

Co-chairs Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and Mathematics, and Katharine Coles, Distinguished Professor of English, developed the Symposium’s theme together. Coles explains, “In some ways, the topic of Beauty as a topic of interdisciplinary discussion and examination seems very abstract. However, I think it has become my favorite Symposium topic so far. It seems to touch on every discipline and, in many ways, on every aspect of our lives. Nature seems to have built us to respond to beauty; it’s hard not to wonder why.”

Read the full article about the symposium in @TheU.

The Utah Symposium is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit scienceandliterature.org.

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U Fulbright Scholar Semi-Finalists 2024

Three Science Students selected as Fulbright SEMI-finalists


March 21, 2024

Nine U students selected as Fulbright finalists; three of them call the College of Science home.

The University of Utah is proud to announce that nine students have been selected as semi-finalists for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Three are affiliated with the College of Science in the Fulbright area of Research.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this nationally competitive program supports academic exchanges between the United States and over 140 countries around the world. Selected program participants pursue graduate study, conduct research, or serve as English Teaching Assistants abroad. See us.fulbrightonline.org.

For 2024-2025, the University of Utah submitted 19 Fulbright applications. Its cohort of semi-finalists represents multiple schools and colleges, including the College of Education, College of Humanities, College of Science, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, David Eccles School of Business, and the Honors College. The group includes two students who intend to enter graduate programs, three students who proposed research projects, and four students who aim to serve as English Teaching Assistants. Projected countries include Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Making it to the semi-finalist round is a significant accomplishment for these students and means that their applications have been forwarded by the Fulbright National Screening Committee to the Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy in the host country for final review. Finalists will be notified later this spring, with the timing of notifications varying by country.

Below are the three finalists from the College of Science all in the category of Research.

Marina Gerton (B.S. in Biology and Chemistry, December 2023) aims to undertake a research project at the University of Costa Rica under the mentorship of Mario Espinoza that focuses on the secret life of snappers--insights from fish movements. Gerton got an early start in science. She graduated from West High School in Salt Lake City where she participated in the 2018 University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair with her project "Mucoadhesive HA-based film releasing metronidazole to treat bacterial vaginosis." Her ambition is to pursue a PhD in marine science, specifically focusing on conservation research.

"While I had a slightly different focus when I first started in the lab," she says, "I’m now working on using paper and plant waste products (think recycled paper, yard clippings, agricultural waste, etc.) as, essentially, a food source for this really interesting bacteria Teredinibacter turnerae." Currently working in Eric Schmidt's lab in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, she says that "one of the most interesting aspects of her research is that the bacteria she works with live in symbiosis with another organism, shipworms, and actually grow within specialized host cells in the shipworms’ gill tissue." It’s especially interesting, she states, as we know this species produces various compounds of medicinal interest, and "we’re still able to see production of those compounds when it’s grown on these waste products."

Gerton loves boxing and swimming, but is quick to say that she loathes running "with a passion." She also claims that watching commercials for Best Friends or the WWF can make her cry. (She avoids them along with pineapple on her pizza.) Finally, what would she do if she had more time outside of academics? One word: bake.

Moses Samuelson-Lynn (HBS in Math, BA in German, Spring 2024) aims to research “A New Set of Efficient Initial Variables for Cluster Algebras of Finite Mutation Type” at the Max Plank Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Germany. His main interest is in pure mathematics, especially number theory, analysis, geometric graph theory, geometric group theory and algebraic geometry.

His undergraduate research has led him to multiple presentations at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. His ambition is to earn a PhD in pure mathematics with the goal of becoming a research professor.

Samuelson-Lynn lives in West Valley City and he enjoys playing piano, bicycle riding, chess, origami and programming. In addition to his Fulbright aspirations, he will be joining a research team in Germany over the summer of 2024 directly after graduation. He will be investigating applications of subatomic-scale sensitivity of nitrogen vacancy centers in ultra-pure diamond at GSI Helmholtz in Darmstadt, Germany. He is completing an honors thesis on the classification of surfaces and is a member of the university German club.  UPDATE (4/3/2024): Moses Samuelson-Lynn has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!

 

Catherine Warner (HBS, Math'19; Ph.D. in Math, Spring 2025) is a graduate student in the mathematics department where she anticipates earning her PhD in 2025. She aims to undertake a research project titled “Semiduality Groups: An Analog of Duality Groups” at the University of Sannio in Italy.

Werner's path to mathematics wasn’t exactly obvious. "I began undergrad as a biomedical engineering student," she says. "And even before that I mostly played golf throughout my earlier schooling while secretly reading classical philosophy in my free time,"  She quickly realized that engineering wasn’t enough. "I realized that ever since my early reading as a child, I’m used to expecting some deeper structures to reality, some sort of a deeper meaning. I just didn’t know how to find it."

Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, and partly pushed by that curiosity "and partly for lack of anything better to do," she adds, "I signed on for abstract math. I did so with hesitation because it seemed to me to be airy, lacking contact with reality. But the more I pursued geometric group theory, the more I became fascinated. Because I realized something pretty fundamental: One of the ways of finding hidden structures of the world is math — the amazing pursuit of the human mind, attempting to penetrate and order reality by following the structure of the mind itself."  UPDATE (3/21/2024): Catherine Warner has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!

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Fulbright alumni from the United States and around the world have gone on to achieve distinction in government, science, the arts, business, philanthropy, and education. Among the ranks of Fulbright alumni are 62 Nobel Prize recipients, 78 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 41 current or former heads of state or government.

Fulbright semi-finalists from the University of Utah were advised throughout the application process by the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) housed in the Honors College. ONCS staff members assist outstanding students and alumni in developing competitive applications, preparing for interviews, and securing University endorsements for a variety of prestigious nationally competitive scholarships, including Fulbright.

You can learn about all of the Fulbright semi-finalists at the U here.

The 2025-2026 Fulbright competition will open on April 2, 2024. To learn more, contact Alison Shimko, the University of Utah’s Fulbright Director and the Associate Director of ONCS, at alison.shimko@utah.edu or consult nationallycompetitivescholarships.utah.edu.

Where the Wild Things Went During the Pandemic

Where the Wild Things Went During the Pandemic


March 18, 2024

A new study of camera-trap images complicates the idea that all wildlife thrived during the Covid lockdowns.

Austin Green

In the early months of the Covid pandemic, when every bit of news seemed bleak, there was one heartwarming narrative that took hold: With humans stuck in their homes, the world was safe again for wild animals, which could now wander freely through cities, parking lots or fields that once might have been crowded with people.

But a new global study, which used wildlife cameras to track human and animal activity during the Covid lockdowns, suggests that the story was not that simple. Austin Green HBS'16, PHD '22 , currently post-doctoral researcher in the College of Science's Science Research Initiative, is one of the many co-authors and a leader in Utah in the collection of data of wildlife as it intersects with urban environments.

“We went in with a somewhat simplistic notion,” said Cole Burton, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the research. “You know, humans stop, animals are going to breathe a sigh of relief and move around more naturally. And what we saw was quite different.”

Although humans disappeared from some places during the lockdowns, they surged into others, like parks that remained open when little else was, the researchers found. And there was enormous variability in how wild mammals responded to changes in human behavior. Carnivores and animals living in remote, rural places, for instance, were more active when people faded from the landscape, while the opposite was generally true for large herbivores and urban animals.

The study, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday, deepens and complicates scientists’ understanding of what has been called the “anthropause,” when pandemic lockdowns radically altered human behavior. It also highlights the nuanced ways in which humans affect the lives of wild animals, as well as the need for varied and multifaceted conservation efforts, the authors said.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to mitigating the impacts of human activity on wildlife,” said Kaitlyn Gaynor, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia. “Because we see that not all species are responding similarly to people.”

Read the full article by Emily Anthes in the New York Times.

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Finding Nemo (that is, nematodes) in the GSL

Finding Nemo (that is, nematodes) in the GSL


March 13, 2024

Brine shrimp and brine flies aren't the only animals inhabiting the Great Salt Lake. Utah biologists find tiny nematodes in its reef-like microbialites.

Julie Jung examines nematodes recovered from Great Salt Lake. Credit: Brian Maffly, University of Utah ^^ Banner video above: "Finding Nematode: How University of Utah biologists founds worms in the Great Salt Lake" credit Brian Maffly

Scientists have long suspected nematodes, commonly known as roundworms, inhabit Utah’s Great Salt Lake sediments, but until recently, no one had actually recovered any there.

It took a University of Utah postdoc with a hammer and loads of field experience to solve the puzzle. Along with biology professor Michael Werner, postdoctoral researcher Julie Jung announced in a study published this week that they discovered thousands of tiny worms in the lake’s microbialites, those reef-like structures that cover about a fifth of the lakebed.

Their initial attempts failed to find nematodes in lakebed sediments, prompting Jung to take a hammer to samples of microbialites where she struck biological pay dirt. Breaking up the carbonate structures yielded thousands of nematode specimens representing several species, resulting in a significant discovery.

Previously, just two multicellular animals have been known to inhabit the lake’s highly saline waters—brine shrimp and brine flies. Now there is a third, opening several new lines of inquiry into Great Salt Lake’s largely hidden web of life.

With more than 250,000 known species, nematodes comprise the world’s most abundant animal phylum in both aquatic and terrestrial biospheres. They live deep in the oceans, deep underground, and in frigid, arid conditions. The nematode species Caenorhabditis elegans is used in science as a model organism whose genome has been thoroughly mapped.

The new Great Salt Lake findings represent the most saline environment where nematodes have ever been recovered, according to Werner, an assistant professor in the university’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Just what is the limit of animal life? What environments can animals actually survive? That captures some imagination about looking at other planets where we might find complex multicellular life,” said Werner, the senior author of a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “If there was life also on Mars, it might have looked a little bit like the [lake’s ultrasalty] North Arm right now.”

But there’s even more to the story. In a “crazy” side experiment, Werner’s team fed bacteria from the lake to C. elegans to see what would happen if they exposed these worms to the lake’s water, which is 50 times more saline than this species’ usual habitat.

After 24 hours, these worms were still alive, while those nourished on the model species’ usual diet were dead within five minutes.

“We didn’t expect it to work, but it did!” Werner exclaimed. This suggests that bacteria can help nematodes adapt to highly saline conditions, but more research is needed to identify the mechanisms at play.

Read the full article by Brian Maffly in @TheU. Read additional articles from outside media below:

 

 

 

 

 

Excellence in Teaching & Mentoring Award

Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award

Sophie Caron, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, is the recipient of the College of Science Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award for 2023.

^ Sophie Caron. ^^ Banner photo above: the Caron Lab.

While Caron is highly regarded for her stunning work in neuroscience research, she is also cherished within the College of Science community for her exceptional talents as an educator. Her kind and compassionate approach to teaching and mentoring has created an environment where students and undergraduate researchers are uplifted in their work and can move forward with the skills to find success in their education, careers, and beyond. 

While developing her teaching style, Caron thought outside the box of the standard curriculum and elected to incorporate essential career skills, including how to read and analyze research papers, which she believes is a crucial skill for future scientists. “I think it is really important for students to be able to read research papers because neuroscience is going to change dramatically in the next few years,” she says. In her classes, students collectively explore and present research papers, delving deep into the material and gaining a profound understanding of the subject matter. “I'm always amazed at how deep they go into the paper and how well they understand, and to me that’s really rewarding because I see that this is when it clicks for them what is possible today.”

Along with developing her student’s understanding of present-day neuroscience, Caron also actively encourages her students to reach out to researchers for valuable hands-on experience, emphasizing the importance of practical application in their academic journey. She has worked to ensure that her lab is a welcoming place for undergraduates to gain their first experience doing research. Caron currently hosts ten undergraduate researchers in her lab and has fully immersed herself in the role of mentoring and supporting these students. “You really become invested in their success,” describes Caron. “I see the success of my mentees as just as important, if not more important, than my own. It’s something that I really take to heart, and I would say is the most important part of that job.” It is this level of dedication and support that creates such a positive experience for her students and will provide the foundation for their future careers. 

In the lab, Caron and her student researchers are working to expand our understanding of memory and perception in the brain by studying the brain center of Drosophila, often called fruit flies. “Our main interest is, first and foremost, the brain, and how brains are built to generate this vast array of behaviors,” she explains. “in Drosophila, you have thousands of different species. It's really fun to start thinking about brain evolution, and it's really hard to find another species that has so many cousins, where you can compare brains that have adapted to a completely different environment.” A fruit fly’s minute brain may seem an unlikely subject for exploring neuroscience, so why study them? Caron explains that it’s all about simplicity, and understanding the most basic form of a system as complex as the brain: “I really like to look at the simplest system and the simplest brain, so to speak, to really start to understand, for example, what's the minimal amount of neurons you need to form a memory? And can we start understanding at the level of functional activity in one neuron?” Caron’s curiosity shines through questions like this, as she keeps pushing to expand the field of neuroscience and our understanding of memory, learning, and perception. 

Any student fortunate enough to pass through Caron’s classroom or lab is sure to be instilled with her contagious passion for exploration and learning. As she continues to inspire through her teaching, mentoring, and groundbreaking research, Caron is committed not just to shaping better scientists, but better collaborators and citizens. “Working in a space where kindness prevails and there is a desire for collaboration is really what makes us stronger, not just as a team but also as a society. I'm really hoping that this is what [students] take away from the lab.”

Sophie Caron truly embodies the spirit of a passionate and dedicated educator. Her impact on both her students and the field of neuroscience is a testament to the power of a compassionate and creative approach to teaching and mentoring. When asked about the most important thing she teaches to her students, she answered “The joy of discovery and science. To nurture that and to appreciate that. And to know how privileged of a situation it is to be able to work on a problem that you're obsessed with, and that is your life's mission. I know it's cliche, but to me, it doesn't even feel like a job because it is such a passion. That's something I hope they can take away.” Safe to say, the future of science and research is looking bright with educators like Caron leading the way.

by Julia St. Andre


Sophie Caron has also been awarded a Presidential Scholar Award in 2023. You can read the story about her and the award here.

Kona Coffee Lawsuit

Kona Coffee Claims GET Litigated

On the volcanic slopes of Hawaii’s Big Island, hundreds of farmers in the Kona region produce one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

James Ehleringer

Those farmers recently won a series of settlements — totaling more than $41 million — after a nearly five-year legal battle with distributors and retailers that were accused of using the Kona name in a misleading way.

In 2019, Bruce Corker, who owns the Rancho Aloha coffee farm in the Kona district, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kona farmers against more than 20 companies. At the center of the complaint was a chemical analysis performed at a private lab in Salt Lake City by James Ehleringer, Distinguished Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah who ran the analysis and who said that standard tests depended on the amount of water in each sample. That wouldn’t have worked on the variety of Kona products at issue.

“As you go from green beans to roasted beans, you’re changing the water content,” says Ehleringer. So he borrowed an approach from geology that instead looked at the relative concentrations of rare, inorganic minerals in the beans. These ratios, he said, stay constant even at roasting temperatures.

After testing coffee samples from around the world as well as more than 150 samples from Kona farms, Dr. Ehleringer’s team identified several element ratios — strontium to zinc, for example, and barium to nickel — that distinguished Kona from non-Kona samples. “We were able to establish a fingerprint for Kona,” said Dr. Ehleringer, who described the general method in a 2020 study. “It’s the characteristics of the volcanic rock.”

Those chemical signatures, he found, were largely absent from samples of coffee labeled “Kona” sold by the defendants.

 

 

Read the full article in the New York Times by Virgina Hughes here.