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Women in STEM to host network-building event

Women in STEM at The University of Toledo is working with the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women and the Association for Women in Science to create mentoring programs and initiatives for students.

A welcoming and network-building event will take place Monday, Aug. 20, for women pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math at the University. The organization also has expanded its inclusion of those studying the medical sciences.

This free event will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Libbey Hall Dining Room and provide students and faculty with a relaxed atmosphere that will allow them to establish and develop mentoring relationships to ensure their success at UT.

Women in STEM at UT also has worked with IDEAL-N, a multi-university project that is funded through the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program and facilitated by Case Western Reserve University.

IDEAL-N aims to institutionalize gender equity transformation at leading research universities by creating a learning community of academic leaders that is empowered to develop leverage knowledge, skills, resources and networks to transform university cultures and enhance diversity and inclusion.

“Organizations like these and the Association for Women in Science are a valuable source of information for women in STEMM,” said Dr. Patricia Case, associate dean for the UT College of Arts and Letters. “They provide links to education and research opportunities, as well as provide opportunities to develop relationships with other women in STEMM.”

Research has found that a male-dominated discipline can be demoralizing to women, and having a group of individuals to guide you or “have your back” can be the difference between success and exiting a career path, Case explained.

“Women account for approximately 52 percent of the population, so equality would mean that we have more representation in these fields,” Case added. “When barriers are lifted, women pursue and succeed in these degrees as much as men.”

If interested in attending the event, RSVP to Angelica Johnson at angelica.johnson2@utoledo.edu or 419.530.5146.

For questions about the event, contact Case at patricia.case@utoledo.edu.

UT chemists discover how blue light speeds blindness

Blue light from digital devices and the sun transforms vital molecules in the eye’s retina into cell killers, according to optical chemistry research at The University of Toledo.

The process outlined in the study, which was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, leads to age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne examined toxic oxygen generation by retinal during blue light exposure.

“We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye’s cornea and lens cannot block or reflect it,” Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said. “It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop.”

Macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease that results in significant vision loss starting on average in a person’s 50s or 60s, is the death of photoreceptor cells in the retina. Those cells need molecules called retinal to sense light and trigger a cascade of signaling to the brain.

“You need a continuous supply of retinal molecules if you want to see,” Karunarathne said. “Photoreceptors are useless without retinal, which is produced in the eye.”

Karunarathne’s lab found that blue light exposure causes retinal to trigger reactions that generate poisonous chemical molecules in photoreceptor cells.

“It’s toxic. If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells as the signaling molecule on the membrane dissolves,” Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student researcher working in Karunarathne’s cellular photo chemistry group, said. “Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.”

Karunarathne introduced retinal molecules to other cell types in the body, such as cancer cells, heart cells and neurons. When exposed to blue light, these cell types died as a result of the combination with retinal. Blue light alone or retinal without blue light had no effect on cells.

“No activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light,” Karunarathne said. “The retinal-generated toxicity by blue light is universal. It can kill any cell type.”

The researcher found that a molecule called alpha tocopherol, a vitamin E derivative and a natural antioxidant in the eye and body, stops the cells from dying. However, as a person ages or the immune system is suppressed, people lose the ability to fight against the attack by retinal and blue light.

“That is when the real damage occurs,” Karunarathne said.

The lab currently is measuring light coming from television, cell phone and tablet screens to get a better understanding of how the cells in the eyes respond to everyday blue light exposure.

“If you look at the amount of light coming out of your cell phone, it’s not great but it seems tolerable,” Dr. John Payton, visiting assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said. “Some cell phone companies are adding blue-light filters to the screens, and I think that is a good idea.”

To protect your eyes from blue light, Karunarathne advises to wear sunglasses that can filter both UV and blue light outside and avoid looking at cell phones or tablets in the dark.

“Every year more than two million new cases of age-related macular degeneration are reported in the United States,” Karunarathne said. “By learning more about the mechanisms of blindness in search of a method to intercept toxic reactions caused by the combination of retinal and blue light, we hope to find a way to protect the vision of children growing up in a high-tech world.”

View Mars at UT observatory as red planet comes closest to Earth in 15 years

Mars will be visible to the naked eye in late July as the planet approaches its closet point to Earth since 2003 — 35.8 million miles away.

Astronomers at The University of Toledo are hosting Mars Watch 2018 to share the UT telescope with the public for a view of what is called opposition, the point when Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of the Earth as the planets orbit around the sun.

“Due to the orbit of Mars and Earth, Mars is really only well-placed for observing from Earth for a month or two every two years or so,” Alex Mak, associate director of UT Ritter Planetarium, said. “The end of July and early August mark one of those opportunities.”

The Brooks Observatory in McMaster Hall will be open to the public for four nights — from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26; Monday, July 30; Tuesday, July 31; and Wednesday, Aug. 1. Visitors are invited to meet in the lobby of McMaster Hall, where they will be guided up to the observatory.

“Mars is the planet that has fascinated humanity for the longest,” Mak said. “From its retrograde motion in the sky and its blood red color to the question of whether Mars has or had life, it is a planet that has never failed to make us wonder.”

The event is dependent on clear skies.

Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children 5 through 12. Children 4 and younger are admitted free.

UT neuroscientist awarded $1.75 million to develop method to modify traumatic memories, treat PTSD

A neuroscientist at The University of Toledo is creating a new way to help people face their fears.

The National Institute of Mental Health awarded Dr. Jianyang Du, assistant professor in the UT Department of Biological Sciences, a five-year, $1.75 million grant to develop a method to modify fearful memories, which could lead to new treatment options for mental health illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

Du

“Excessive fear memories such as war-time trauma or a near-death experience can be crippling,” Du said. “However, fear memories also can be critical for survival. Developing means to either erase or to strengthen fear memory could aid understanding of how memories are formed and may suggest novel therapeutic strategies.” 

Du, who studies how protons regulate brain circuits and behaviors, found in mouse brains that manipulating pH in the amygdala can influence or control fear memories during recollection, creating a short window of increased susceptibility to either erase or enhance the memory.

Du manipulates the pH levels by using carbon dioxide inhalation and activating key molecular components of the central nervous system called acid-sensing ion channels, which spread throughout the body and allow for transmission of signals in the nervous system. The acid-sensing ion channels are important targets for pharmaceutical drug designers because of their importance to learning and memory.

“Our goal is to uncover the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which traumatic memories are stored in the brain and how carbon-dioxide inhalation and acid-sensing ion channels influence or control emotional behaviors, such as anxiety and depression,” Du said. “The ability to rewire the brain to modify existing fearful memories is very important as it relates to mental disorders.”

UT astronomer part of NASA mission that discovered famously furious star system shoots cosmic rays

The average person encounters cosmic rays when the fast, tiny particles shoot through the clouds and cause bright pixels on photos. Very few actually reach the ground, and they are not known to be harmful.

Astrophysicists long believed those lightweight protons or electrons moving close to the speed of light reach Earth’s atmosphere after supernova explosions, deflecting off electromagnetic fields in their scrambled path through space that ultimately masks their origin.

The left panel shows the Hubble image of Eta Carinae, and the right shows an X-ray image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory on the same scale. The green contours show where NuSTAR detected the very high-energy source, which also proves that it is Eta Carinae and not another source in the region. The images are courtesy of NASA.

However, a groundbreaking new study involving NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope shows the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light years also is a source of cosmic rays that sometimes reach Earth, no explosion necessary.

The Eta Carinae discovery, which was published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, was made by an international team, which includes an astronomer at The University of Toledo.

Dr. Noel Richardson, postdoctoral research associate in the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy, analyzed data from NuSTAR observations of Eta Carinae acquired between March 2014 and June 2016. The space telescope, which was launched in 2012 and can focus X-rays of much greater energy than any previous telescope, detects a source emitting X-rays above 30,000 electron volts at a rate of motion approaching the speed of light.

Richardson

“Most stars can’t produce that much energy,” Richardson said. “Eta Carinae is one of only three star systems NuSTAR has been able to observe. The new technology allowed us to push what we understand about the high-energy universe. And we discovered that we don’t always need an exploding star, but rather two stars with massive winds pushing out cosmic rays.”

The raging winds from Eta Carinae’s two tightly orbiting stars smash together at speeds of more than six million miles per hour approximately every five years. Temperatures reach many tens of millions of degrees — enough to emit X-rays.

“Both of Eta Carinae’s stars drive powerful outflows called stellar winds,” Dr. Michael Corcoran, team member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said. “Where these winds clash changes during the orbital cycle, which produces a periodic signal in low-energy X-rays we’ve tracked for more than two decades.”

“We know the blast waves of exploded stars can accelerate cosmic ray particles to speeds comparable to that of light, an incredible energy boost,” said Dr. Kenji Hamaguchi, astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of the study. “Similar processes must occur in other extreme environments. Our analysis indicates Eta Carinae is one of them.”

Eta Carinae’s primary star is almost 100 times more massive and five million times more luminous than the sun. That star also is famous for losing 10 suns worth of material — huge amounts of gas and dust — into space in an enormous explosion in the 1830s that briefly made it the second-brightest star in the sky.

Richardson studies massive stars and also was part of the international team that captured the first sharp image of Eta Carinae’s violent wind collision zone and discovered new and unexpected structures in 2016.

In addition to UT and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, researchers from the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, Catholic University of America, California Institute of Technology, University of Leeds, Hiroshima University, University of Utah and San Jose State University contributed to the new study.

Read more and see a video here.

UT team receives research award at international Biodesign Challenge Summit

UT students who thought outside — and inside — the hive won the Outstanding Field Research Award June 22 at the Biodesign Challenge Summit in New York.

“Apigiene Hive: Rethinking Bee Hygiene” was selected for the honor that recognizes a team that takes the initiative to go into the field and interview experts as well as potentially affected communities in order to find and understand the social impacts of their project.

Members of the UT team — from left, Madeline Tomczak, Jesse Grumelot, Domenic Pennetta and Lucya Keune — posed for a photo with the Outstanding Field Research Award they won June 22 at the Biodesign Challenge Summit, which was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Members of the UT team are Madeline Tomczak, who graduated with a bachelor of science degree in environmental science in May; Domenic Pennetta, a sophomore majoring in art; Jesse Grumelot, who graduated in May with a bachelor of science degree in bioengineering; and Lucya Keune, a senior studying visual arts.

The four were in New York for the award ceremony and exhibition with Brian Carpenter and Eric Zeigler, assistant professors in the Department of Art in the College of Arts and Letters, who taught the Biodesign Challenge class spring semester.

“We are very proud of our UT students,” Carpenter said. “This challenge is fantastic. It encourages students to think creatively, take risks, and gather science and data. They realize their designs can work.”

“This competition was such an incredible opportunity for our students,” Zeigler said. “For UT to win an award our first year in the challenge shows the dedication and creativity of our students.”

Solving problems creatively is what the Biodesign Challenge is all about. The Genspace NYC program offers college students the chance to envision future applications of biotechnology by working together interdisciplinarily.

At UT, the Biodesign Challenge class brought together students majoring in art, bioengineering and environmental science, as well as peers from the Jesup Scott Honors College.

UT went head to head against 29 schools from across the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Guatemala, Japan and Scotland. Six awards were presented at the challenge.

“This was an incredible win on a world stage. Our students competed against teams from New York University, Rutgers, the University of Sydney, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Ghent University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Georgetown. It was our first time out of the gate, and UT took an award,” said Barbara WF Miner, professor and chair of the UT Department of Art. “We are ecstatic!”

“[The 30] finalists were selected from a pool of 450 participants,” Daniel Grushkin, founder and director of the Biodesign Challenge, said. “I firmly believe that they are leading us into a sustainable future with their visions.”

The UT team wanted to help the bee population and created additions for the popular Langstroth hive to fight one of the insect’s biggest foes: mites.

A fibrous brush filled with zebra mussel powder at the hive entrance targets Varroa destructor mites on the surface of adult bees. The insects will clean off the powder — and the mites — and leftover powder will help kill the intruders inside the hive.

And to tackle the Acarapis woodi mites, which invade the hive and lay eggs, the team turned to a natural deterrent: mint, which was infused with the wax frames.

At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the UT students presented their project to more than 200 scientists, designers, entrepreneurs and artists.

“Our students’ design is economically feasible; beekeepers would just add two simple modifications to their existing hives,” Zeigler said. “It’s a happy solution, and one that could have tremendous market impact all over the world.”

“Eric, the students and I want to thank the University for its support,” Carpenter said. “We wouldn’t have been able to develop this class without assistance from the College of Arts and Letters; the Jesup Scott Honors College; the College of Engineering; the Department of Art; and the Department of Environmental Sciences. We’re already looking forward to next year’s challenge.”

Bee proactive: UT students to compete in Biodesign Challenge in New York

A team of University of Toledo students is buzzing with excitement, preparing to compete against 29 schools in the Biodesign Challenge Summit in New York this month.

The four students will present “Apigiene Hive: Rethinking Bee Hygiene” at the international contest Thursday and Friday, June 21-22, at the Museum of Modern Art.

“We decided to focus on bees because of the recent problems with colony collapse disorder,” said Madeline Tomczak, who graduated with a bachelor of science degree in environmental science in May.

“And we simply found those tiny yellow-and-black insects adorable,” added Domenic Pennetta, a sophomore majoring in art. “By focusing on bees and their problems, we could help both bees and apiarists here in Ohio, and also have solutions that could potentially be used to benefit others around the globe.”

Solving problems creatively is what the Biodesign Challenge is all about. The Genspace NYC program offers college students the chance to envision future applications of biotechnology by working together interdisciplinarily.

At UT, the Biodesign Challenge class in spring semester brought together students majoring in art, bioengineering and environmental science, as well as peers from the Jesup Scott Honors College.

“The really wonderful part about participating in this challenge is it started with the students — they approached us about having the class,” Eric Zeigler, associate lecturer in the UT Department of Art, said.

“One thing we thought was paramount in teaching this class: We were their peers. We were in the trenches with the students, asking questions, learning together,” Brian Carpenter, lecturer and gallery director in the UT Department of Art, said. “It’s been so inspiring. I tell everyone this is my favorite class I’ve taken.”

Carpenter and Zeigler will travel with the team to the Big Apple, where the UT students will vie with teams from across the country, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Guatemala, Japan and Scotland for awards, including the Animal-Free Wool Prize sponsored by PETA, Stella McCartney and Stray Dog Capital.

“These finalists were selected from a pool of 450 participants,” Daniel Grushkin, founder and director of the Biodesign Challenge, said. “I firmly believe that they are leading us into a sustainable future with their visions.”

Tomczak and Pennetta worked with Jesse Grumelot, who graduated in May with a bachelor of science degree in bioengineering, and Lucya Keune, a senior studying visual arts, to create additions for the popular Langstroth hive to fight one of the bees’ biggest foes: mites.

“A fibrous brush filled with zebra mussel diatoms will target Varroa destructor mites on the surface of adult bees,” Grumelot said. “In addition, mint-infused wax frames will eliminate Acarapis woodi mites, as well as Varroa destructor juveniles.”

“We researched the problem, talking to specialists and professionals, and focused on natural ways to give bees a better environment to thrive,” Keune said.

Part of that new environment includes placing a brush at the hive entrance to use what beekeepers call the sugar shake — but in a new way. To encourage bees to be more hygienic, beekeepers sometimes put powder sugar on the insects so they’ll clean off the sweet stuff — and the nasty Varroa destructor mites.

“We use powdered zebra mussel to increase hygiene behaviors, which in turn helps kill the mites,” Tomczak said.

The zebra mussel powder acts like diatomaceous earth, which, when crushed, can be used as a treatment for fleas and ticks on household pets.

“Since diatomaceous earth is often from oceanic rocks, we wanted to bring this part of the hive closer to home by looking at Lake Erie,” Tomczak said. “Zebra mussel shells are abundant and easy to collect, and can be ground down to a fine powder.”

The powder is then baked, sterilized, and made finer with a mortar and pestle. It will prompt the bees to clean up and get rid of the mites, and it will help kill any mites inside the hive.

And to tackle the Acarapis woodi mites, which invade the hive and lay eggs, the team turned to a natural deterrent: mint.

“We wanted to avoid the chemical sprays that can be harmful and stressful to the bee colony,” Keune said. “We learned mint is used to fight mites; it’s better for the bees and the honey.”

“Our new hive features starting frames of beeswax infused with natural corn mint and peppermint,” Grumelot said. “This method is a more accurate way to focus on the mite infestation, and it avoids spraying the entire hive, leaving the honey untouched and the bees happy.”

In New York, the UT students will present their project to more than 200 scientists, designers, entrepreneurs and artists.

“This is a great resumé-builder for our students,” Zeigler said. “Their design is economically feasible; beekeepers would just add two simple modifications to their existing hives. It’s a happy solution, and one that could have tremendous market impact all over the world.”

“This challenge is fantastic. It encourages students to think creatively, take risks, and gather science and data. They realize their designs can work,” Carpenter said.

“I hope that by participating in this challenge that others will begin to look at relevant issues critically and try to find better solutions in creative ways,” Pennetta said.

UT awarded $275,000 to help restore native fish habitat in Great Lakes shipping corridor

As part of a large-scale effort by state, national and international agencies to restore giant, ancient sturgeon and other native fish to the Great Lakes, the U.S. Geological Survey awarded The University of Toledo $275,000 for a yearlong project to study how well Lake St. Clair serves as nursery habitat for those species to spawn and grow.

Lake St. Clair, which connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie along with the Detroit River and St. Clair River, is 17 times smaller than Lake Ontario and sometimes referred to as the sixth Great Lake.

Mayer

“This is a critical habitat corridor that historically served as home to stocks of important native fish such as walleye, yellow perch, whitefish and sturgeon that migrated from Lake Erie to spawn,” said Dr. Christine Mayer, professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences and Lake Erie Center. “Our research will contribute to the ongoing multi-agency effort to restore fish habitat in this important Great Lakes passageway.”

Mayer said in the early 1900s, the corridor was altered to accommodate shipping and industry, resulting in the destruction of rocky and shallow areas needed for young fish to spawn, feed and grow safely.

“This research project will examine how young fish use habitat within Lake St. Clair and help create a more complete picture of what habitats are still impaired and how future restoration of key habitat features may increase productivity of native fish species,” Mayer said.

The research team is made up of aquatic ecologists in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. The team is led by Dr. Robin DeBruyne, an assistant research professor, and includes Jason Fischer, a PhD student who has studied how fish use constructed reefs and softened shorelines, as well as how future reefs can be positioned to minimize sand infiltration and maximize the benefit to fish.

UT also is involved in the project to restore lake sturgeon to Lake Erie. Most recently, researchers helped the Toledo Zoo secure $90,000 in federal grant money to build a sturgeon rearing facility along the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie, by verifying that spawning and nursery habitat still exist in the Maumee River to sustain a population of the fish that can live to be 150 years old and grow up to 300 pounds and eight feet long.

Men may contribute to infertility through newly discovered part of sperm

Life doesn’t begin the way we thought it did.

A new study at The University of Toledo shows that a father donates not one, but two centrioles through the sperm during fertilization, and the newly discovered sperm structure may contribute to infertility, miscarriages and birth defects.

The newly discovered centriole functions similarly and along with the known centriole. However, it is structured differently.

Dr. Tomer Avidor-Reiss and Lilli Fishman worked on the study titled “A Novel Atypical Sperm Centriole is Functional During Human Fertilization,” which was published in Nature Communications.

“This research is significant because abnormalities in the formation and function of the atypical centriole may be the root of infertility of unknown cause in couples who have no treatment options available to them,” said Dr. Tomer Avidor-Reiss, professor in the UT Department of Biological Sciences. “It also may have a role in early pregnancy loss and embryo development defects.”

The centriole is the only essential cellular structure contributed solely by the father. It is the origin of all of the centrioles in the trillions of cells that make up the adult human body. Centrioles are essential for building the cell’s antennae, known as cilia, and cytoskeleton, as well as completing accurate cell division.

A zygote, or fertilized egg cell, needs two centrioles to start life. It was previously thought that sperm provides a single centriole to the egg and then duplicates itself.

“Since the mother’s egg does not provide centrioles, and the father’s sperm possesses only one recognizable centriole, we wanted to know where the second centriole in zygotes comes from,” Avidor-Reiss said. “We found the previously elusive centriole using cutting-edge techniques and microscopes. It was overlooked in the past because it’s completely different from the known centriole in terms of structure and protein composition.”

The atypical centriole contains a small core set of proteins needed for the known sperm centriole to form a fully functional centriole after fertilization in the zygote using the egg’s proteins.

This discovery may provide new avenues for diagnostics and therapeutic strategies for male infertility and insights into early embryo developmental defects, according to the research titled “A Novel Atypical Sperm Centriole is Functional During Human Fertilization” that was published June 7 in Nature Communications.

In addition to human sperm, Avidor-Reiss and his research team studied the sperm of flies, beetles and cattle.

“The whole idea for this study started with the fly,” said Lilli Fishman, UT PhD candidate, who is being honored with the 2018 Lalor Foundation Merit Award from the Society for the Study of Reproduction for her work on the project. “Basic fly research indicated the misconception in sperm structure. It has been incredible to be part of the ensuing process that included incredible scientists from four states and two countries.”

The leading-edge techniques and microscopes used on this research include super-resolution microscopy; electron microscopy with high-pressure freezing; and correlative light and electron microscopy.

“The super-resolution microscopy was critical for this discovery,” Avidor-Reiss said. “The technology allows you to see proteins at the highest resolution.”
The University of Toronto, National Cancer Institute, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pittsburgh also contributed to the research.

Avidor-Reiss and his team are taking this research to the clinical level.

“We are working with the Urology Department at The University of Toledo Medical Center to study the clinical implications of the atypical centriole to figure out if it’s associated with infertility and what kind of infertility,” Avidor-Reiss said.

UT researchers discover lizards immediately adjust sun-basking behavior to offset warmer temperatures

When in Rome, lizards do as the Romans do.

A team of scientists and students at The University of Toledo found that desert short-horned lizards in southeastern Utah immediately adjust sun-basking behavior to offset warmer temperatures or minimize exposure to dangerous heat, according to climate change research published in the scientific journal Functional Ecology.

This short-horned lizard sported a data logger that continuously recorded light levels in different environments in the Abajo Mountains in Utah. UT researchers found the reptiles immediately adjusted sun-basking behavior to offset warmer temperatures or minimize exposure to dangerous heat.

The study conducted in the Abajo Mountains, a small, isolated range near the town of Monticello, in July and August 2016 shows that the ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals whose body temperatures are the same as the environment around them, find levels of shade or sun to match the local lizard population when transplanted between cool and warm sites.

“Individual lizards are able to adjust their sun-basking behavior to compensate for a different climate,” said Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, herpetologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. “This is critical because it is a way that lizards can respond immediately to changes in environmental conditions.”

Refsnider said this flexibility is one way that lizards and other ectotherms might survive at least small amounts of climate change and avoid extinction.

“It’s a much faster response than evolutionary adaptation, which occurs over multiple generations,” Refsnider said.

The UT research team posed for a photo at Canyonlands Research Center near Monticello, Utah. They are, from left, Sarah Carter, Tyara Vazquez, Dr. Henry Streby, Ian Clifton, Adam Siefker and Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, who is holding Sora Streby.

The UT team attached to the lizards data loggers that continuously record light levels to measure and analyze how much time the reptiles spent basking in full sun, sitting in a shrub, or buried underground at warm and cool sites on a mountain. Then the scientists transplanted lizards to the opposite site for a week so that they were exposed to a new climate.

Once the light-level recordings were done, the team recaptured the lizards, downloaded the data and returned them to their home sites.

“We found that transplanted lizards immediately adjusted their light-level use to match local lizards,” Refsnider said. “That means light-level use, one type of thermoregulatory behavior or way to regulate their temperature, is a highly flexible behavior. Our results provide hope that lizards may respond to climate change by adjusting the amount of time they spend in different light environments in order to compensate for warmer environmental temperatures.”

Refsnider said this UT study is unique compared to previous studies trying to predict effects of climate change on lizards because the team used lizards living in desert habitat, as opposed to tropical lizard species.

“Tropical lizard species normally experience fairly constant but very warm climates,” Refsnider said. “We focused on lizards living at high elevations in the desert that experience an extremely wide range of temperatures — from well below freezing in the winter that requires hibernation to pretty hot conditions in the summer similar to those experienced by tropical species.”

The UT authors of the published research include three professors, two graduate students and two undergraduate students. The faculty members are Refsnider; Dr. Henry Streby, ecologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences; and Dr. Song Qian, an environmental and ecological statistician and associate professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. The graduate students are Ian Clifton and Tyara Vazquez. The undergraduate students are Adam Siefker and Sarah Carter.