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Leader of invasive Asian carp defense efforts in Illinois to speak at UToledo Lake Erie Center

While scientists at The University of Toledo are protecting the Great Lakes from invasive grass carp by targeting tributaries to Lake Erie, teams in Illinois are focused on blocking bighead and silver carp — also known as flying fish — from entering Lake Michigan.

Irons

Kevin Irons, manager for the aquatic nuisance species program at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, will give a presentation titled “Asian Carp: How Efforts in Illinois Are Protecting the Great Lakes” Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the UToledo Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

Irons, who grew up in northwest Ohio and has led the Asian carp efforts from Illinois since 2010, will discuss collaborative efforts proving successful in preventing the arrival of Asian carp to the Great Lakes and reducing the population where they are found in Chicago-area waterways.

“Anchored by a system of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers electric dispersal barriers and deterrence fencing, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources coordinates on-the-water efforts to accurately identify where carp are and where they are not,” Irons said. “I also want to highlight our contracted fishing and removal program that has shown a 96 percent decline in the population front over the past seven years.”

“The work being done by Kevin Irons on Asian carp species in Illinois is important to the river ecosystems where several species of invasive carp have become abundant,” Dr. Christine Mayer, professor in the UToledo Department of Environmental Sciences and Lake Erie Center, said. “While grass carp are currently the only one of the Asian carp species present and reproducing in the Great Lakes, fishery managers and researchers in the Great Lakes benefit from knowing how control and management of Asian carp species has been approached in Midwestern rivers.”

The public is invited to the free event, which is part of the Lake Erie Center’s Public Lecture Series.

A shuttle will be available to transport visitors from UToledo’s Main Campus to the Lake Erie Center and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories, 3100 W. Towerview Blvd. Passengers must reserve a spot. Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

The Lake Erie Center is UToledo’s freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions to water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

Students compete for chance to travel to NYC for Biodesign Challenge

On Wednesday, April 17, four groups of University of Toledo students will vie for the chance to compete at the International Biodesign Challenge in June in New York City.

Each group will go head to head at the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion, where they will present their projects focusing on biotechnology and biomaterials that address complex global challenges.

The event will start at 6 p.m. with a preview of the students’ work, followed by group presentations at 7 p.m. A reception will start at 8 p.m., and the winner will be announced at 8:30 p.m.

The first group consists of art students Colin Chalmers and McKenzie Dunwald; bioengineering student Michael Socha; and environmental science student Ysabelle Yrad. Together, with assistance from Tamara Phares, instructional laboratory coordinator in the Bioengineering Department, they created an innovative solution to the problem of microplastics in the environment, working on a genetically modified plant that allows for an increased production of specific proteins.

Group two — art students Tyler Dominguez and Andrea Price; environmental science student Anna Pauken; and bioengineering student David Swain — are collaborating with Dr. John Gray, professor of biological sciences, to design a genetically modified plant with enhanced carbon sequestration, while improving soil quality and rainwater infiltration.

The third group is composed of art student Valerie White; bioengineering students Adam Kemp and Anthony Shaffer; and environmental science student Michala Burke. The four are creating a biological solution to indoor air quality issues utilizing emerging knowledge about the microbiome — micro-organisms in a particular environment.

Group four — bioengineering students Sherin Aburidi and Timothy Wolf; environmental science students Courtney Kinzel and Sarah Mattei; and art student Tyler Saner — is working with Dr. Von Sigler, professor of environmental sciences, to create a non-antibacterial resistant treatment for MRSA and other superbugs.

“The UToledo Biodesign Challenge Course offers students firsthand experience in interdisciplinary research and innovative prototype solutions to real-world issues,” said Brian Carpenter, assistant professor of art.

The class is offered to students majoring in art and design; bioengineering; and environmental science. It is taught by Carpenter and Eric Zeigler, assistant professor of art.

“By crossing philosophy, science, technology, art and design, students explore real-world problems and imagine alternative presentations of space, place, body and environment through interdisciplinary research,” Zeigler said.

Carpenter added, “We really want students to be inspired. We want students to think creatively about the solutions that are required to solve the pressing issues of our time.”

UToledo develops precise method to test for exposure to toxic algae

Researchers at The University of Toledo have developed a highly accurate method to test for microcystin in blood or urine samples, an advancement that could provide clinicians a powerful new tool in assessing a patient’s exposure to the dangerous toxin.

The discovery is a continuation of the work UToledo has done around harmful algal blooms since the 2014 Toledo water crisis that temporarily left the city without drinkable water.

Dr. David Kennedy, left, and Dr. Dragan Isailovic have developed a test for microcystin in blood or urine samples that could prove to be a powerful new tool to assess a patient’s exposure to the toxin.

“We don’t want to just be known as the people who turned off the tap, we want to be known as the people who come up with the solutions,” said Dr. David Kennedy, assistant professor of medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and one of the researchers involved in the project. “We’re leading in that area, and the way we’re leading isn’t just going to help northwest Ohio — it’s going to help the world.”

Kennedy’s lab collaborated with Dr. Dragan Isailovic, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor of medicine, to develop and test the method. The research was funded from grants awarded from the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative.

UToledo’s microcystin test combines a method for separating the toxic compounds out of blood or urine samples by liquid chromatography with further examination using mass spectrometry.

The test can identify various microcystins and quantify concentrations of six common microcystins, including the types most often found in Lake Erie.

“Together, we have created a reliable tool that hasn’t existed before. From a clinician’s point of view, you can’t underestimate the importance of having certitude in your diagnosis. We’re helping to provide new diagnostic methods for clinicians to rule in or rule out exposure to microcystin,” Haller said.

Most other attempts at testing blood or urine samples for microcystin have relied on the ELISA test, which is the standard method for quantifying microcystins in water but isn’t as effective in biological samples.

“Our method is very sensitive and reproducible for identification and quantification of microcystins in biological fluids,” Isailovic said. “It would be difficult to do this with the same sensitivity and specificity using any other method.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Chromatography A. Other UToledo contributors on the paper were Dr. Dilrukshika S.W. Palagama, David Baliu-Rodriguez, Apurva Lad and Dr. Bruce S. Levison. A provisional patent on the testing method has been filed.

The researchers are exploring opportunities to use the lab’s technology to offer testing of samples to outside entities.

Zooming in on nature: Winners of Lake Erie Photo Contest announced

A total of 161 eye-catching entries vyed for top honors in the ninth annual Lake Erie Photo Contest.

Photographers of all ages were invited to submit up to three shots that fit the theme, “The Nature of Our Region, From Oak Openings to Maumee Bay.”

All entries are on display in the Lake Erie Center Lobby, 6200 Bayshore Road, Oregon.

“We love this contest; we love seeing the fantastic photographs that are submitted every year, and we love that everyone is out enjoying nature,” said Rachel Lohner, education program manager for the Lake Erie Center.

Winners took home cash prizes. Listed by category, they are:

• Best of Show — Michael Henningsen;

• Adult — Henningsen;

• Teen (13 to 18 years old) — Bekah McVicker; and

• Youth (7 to 12 years old) — Natalie Gibbons.

Lohner said the photo contest is designed to inspire camera enthusiasts and others to explore nature in the Lake Erie region.

Visit the Lake Erie Center’s Facebook page to see more photos from the contest.

Michael Henningsen took home the overall top prize for this photo of raccoons.

Michael Henningsen also won first place in the adult category for his photo of foxes.

Bekah McVicker placed first in the teen category with this shot of a hummingbird.

Natalie Gibbons received top honors in the youth category for her photo of a praying mantis.

UToledo physicist awarded $1.1 million to boost performance of solar cells

A physicist at The University of Toledo was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop ultra-high efficiency solar cells that accelerate the conversion of the sun’s energy into electricity.

Dr. Yanfa Yan, professor of physics, is teaming up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the photovoltaics project to create what are referred to as all-perovskite tandem solar cells that would have a higher conversion efficiency and lower cost.

Yan

While the majority of solar panels based on polycrystalline absorber materials on the market today have about a 16 percent efficiency rating, Yan’s goal is to raise the bar by creating a cell with more than 25 percent efficiency.

“We are excited about this opportunity and eager to collaborate with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to push the performance of solar cells to a higher level and make contributions to the U.S. Department of Energy’s clean energy goal,” Yan said.

Yan’s work is one of 25 projects recently awarded a total of $28 million in federal funding by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, which supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of solar technologies on the grid.

“This $1.1 million award recognizes The University of Toledo as a national leader in photovoltaics research,” Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said. “This is part of an effort to innovate toward a cleaner energy future. With First Solar’s footprint in northwest Ohio and the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization at The University of Toledo, Toledo is a hotbed for clean energy and photovoltaics research. This is another success story for northwest Ohio’s green energy economy.”

Yan is one of the leaders of UToledo’s area of excellence in solar energy, water quality and sustainable technologies.

“I am delighted about Dr. Yanfa Yan’s continuing success in advancing his research on perovskite solar cells,” UToledo Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “Building upon his remarkably impressive publication record in solar energy science, this award confirms the quality and importance of his research and provides him and his collaborators funding to develop techniques to increase the power conversion efficiency of these cells up to 28 percent.”

International scholar to discuss Finnish women’s traditions

Dr. Kaarina Kailo will visit The University of Toledo Tuesday, April 9, to share more than 40 years of wisdom on how to imagine a more just, peaceful future based on Finnish traditions around bears, “golden women” and the environment.

She will speak from 10:30 a.m. to noon in Thompson Student Union Room 2582. The title of her talk is “Golden Women, Bears, and the Sami-Finnish Environmentalists of Ancient Finland.”

Kailo

Kailo is the author of numerous books and articles at the intersections of sustainability, spirituality, globalization, economic, and women’s and gender studies. Her works include “Finnish Goddess Mythology” and “Golden Woman: Climate Change, Earth-Based Indigenous Knowledge, and the Gift.”

“I would like attendees to enjoy themselves thoroughly, taking away information and perspectives from a place so very different from the United States,” said Dr. Barbara Alice Mann, professor of humanities in the Jesup Scott Honors College. “Ideally, they will leave with a new appreciation for a part of the world to which I am willing to bet few American students have given much attention.”

Kailo’s research focuses on the recovery of the women’s traditions of Finland’s first peoples; her work is significant for multicultural studies, ethnography, environmental studies, and women’s and gender studies.

Mann believes it is important for students to be exposed to people from all over the world to learn about their culture, history and struggles.

“Having been at international presentations at which Dr. Kailo spoke, I knew that her English was excellent and her presentations quite interesting,” Mann said regarding her decision to invite Kailo to the University.

The free, public event is sponsored by the Jesup Scott Honors College; the College of Arts and Letters; the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; the Office of the Provost; the School for Interdisciplinary Studies; the Center for Religious Studies; and the departments of History, Environmental Sciences, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Canine in training on campus through Rocket Service Dogs

She was one of the most popular residents in Ottawa House West: an energetic blonde with sparkling brown eyes and an outgoing personality.

“Aspen is why most people come to our room,” Alana Shockley, a sophomore majoring in communication, said and then laughed while petting the Labrador retriever.

Aspen, center, was happy to pose for a photo Courtney Koebel, left, and Alana Shockley of Rocket Service Dogs in Ottawa House West.

The 1-year-old dog definitely turned heads and made a lot of friends.

“Some people ask, ‘How did you get a dog in a residence hall?’ And we explain she’s a service dog in training,” Courtney Koebel, a sophomore majoring in education, said. “Some ask if they can pet her, and we have to calm her down first.”

Settling down is just one thing Shockley and Koebel worked on with Aspen.

“We are trying to teach her commands — sit, stay, kennel — and to get her to focus,” Koebel said. “It’s going well. She has a good work ethic, but she gets distracted sometimes.”

Koebel and Shockley welcomed their four-legged roommate last fall. They are members of Rocket Service Dogs, a University organization partnering with Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence and the Ability Center of Greater Toledo to encourage students to foster and train dogs.

“We were trying to figure out how to get more involved on campus and were looking at all the organizations,” Shockley said. “And once we saw Rocket Service Dogs, we fell in love because we’re really crazy animal lovers, it’s dogs, and we’re helping people.”

Students in the organization take an orientation and policy class through Rocket Service Dogs, and then a handling course taught by Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence.

Aspen is the first canine to live and train in a residence hall through Rocket Service Dogs.

It took a year of planning between the University, Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence and the Ability Center of Greater Toledo to make the placement possible, according to Josephine Biltz, a third-year student majoring in biology and president of the Rocket Service Dogs.

“Aspen seemed to really like the residence hall from the second she walked in, and I think it was a really great atmosphere for her to be exposed to a lot of different people,” Biltz said.

While Aspen wasn’t ready to attend class on campus with Shockley and Koebel, she did go to school once a week. Every Friday, the trio headed to Flower Hospital for class with Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence.

“We practice attention, loose-leash walking. Sometimes they teach us new commands, and then we’ll practice old commands,” Koebel said. “We work on Aspen’s attention, get her to focus for long periods of time, so she’ll be able to come to University classes with us. And sometimes instead of class, we’ll have outings. We’ll go out with [Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence] to a public place to see how she reacts.”

Praise and rewards bolster Aspen’s desire to please — and learn.

“We usually give her small treats to motivate her; sometimes we just use her kibble,” Shockley said. “We bought her some little Milk-Bones, and she really likes those.”

“When you’ve been working with her for a while and she finally understands what we’re trying to do, it’s rewarding to see her get excited,” Koebel said. “She really likes treats, so she’s kind of always excited.”

Aspen recently moved on to continue training through Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence’s prison program, where she was paired with an inmate.

While their time working with the Lab was brief, Koebel and Shockley will remember Aspen and her goal.

“Depending on how well Aspen does and if her attention span gets longer, she could be paired with someone with a disability,” Shockley said. “But if not, she’ll be a therapy and emotional support animal.”

“It makes me feel good that I’m able to help someone who has a disability and can’t help themselves, so it’s cool to know I’m part of the process to help make their life a little bit easier,” Shockley said.

Learn more about Rocket Service Dogs at facebook.com/rocketservicedogs, or email rocketservicedogs@gmail.com.

Study explaining side effects of statins finds drug can have unexpected benefits

While investigating why cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins cause negative side effects such as blurred vision, short-term memory loss or increased risk for diabetes, cellular chemists at The University of Toledo discovered several previously unknown benefits.

It is well-established statins can help lower the risk of heart attack by lowering blood cholesterol, but statins also may play a protective role in the event of a heart attack because they can suppress a biological process that disrupts cardiac function.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in The University of Toledo Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, monitors Mithila Tennakoon, UToledo Ph.D. student, as she exposes living cells to statins in his lab.

By suppressing the activity of key cellular receptors called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and their interacting partners called G proteins, statins have the potential to alter various bodily functions controlled by this important pathway, according to research published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology.

“We believe this and our future investigations can help physicians make more informed decisions about prescribing statins, opening a whole new door to what statins can do in addition to cholesterol control,” said Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in The University of Toledo Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

GPCR signaling pathways are crucial to our survival. They are the largest pharmaceutical drug target — more than one-third of all drugs on the market — because GPCR pathways regulate the body by controlling a variety of functions from vision to heart rate and neurotransmission.

Statins are designed to target and inhibit the cholesterol-synthesis pathway, which is why it is an effective and popular drug to lower cholesterol. But parts of the cholesterol-synthesis pathway are needed for the GPCR signaling pathway to function, which explains the temporary negative side effects while taking statins, such as blurred vision or short-term memory loss.

The UToledo scientists also revealed another crucial finding: The cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce the ability of migratory cells, such as cancer and immune cells, to travel.

When testing GPCR-directed cell invasion, Karunarathne’s lab found that statins reduced movement more than 10-fold compared to the control group.

“This indicated that GPCR-governed cancer cell migration also can be reduced by statins,” Karunarathne said.

The research was done using cells, not human patients. Karunarathne’s lab uses light to control cell behavior — through a novel method named subcellular optogenetics — and studies the way cells respond to light through signal transduction pathways.

“We observed that different types of statins induce very different deviations or changes to G proteins in the GPCR pathway,” said Mithila Tennakoon, a UToledo Ph.D. student in Karunarathne’s lab and first author of the study.

“The side effects of statins are not uniform,” Karunarathne said. “Cells in the eyes, brain, heart and lungs can have completely different impact levels because they have different types of G proteins.”

These findings help explain the molecular sources for side effects of statins, which Karunarathne’s lab discovered can have different effects on tissues and organs.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Fly fisherman hooked on conservation to speak at Lake Erie Center March 21

The community is invited to a free, public talk on fishing, conservation and healthy habitat at The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center.

Brad White, president of the Fallen Timbers chapter of Trout Unlimited and an avid fly fisherman, will speak Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

Brad White, president of the Fallen Timbers chapter of Trout Unlimited, shown here with a rainbow trout, will speak at the Lake Erie Center Thursday, March 21.

Trout Unlimited, which has about 300,000 members nationwide, is a nonprofit organization that works to conserve, protect and restore North America’s cold-water fisheries and their watersheds. The local chapter has 300 members.

“I want to introduce people to Trout Unlimited and talk about the varied activities and programs we get involved in, such as our Trout in the Classroom program,” said White, a retired software entrepreneur in Perrysburg. “We also host events for veterans, stream cleanups and more. Our efforts in the Great Lakes region continue to expand.”

White also serves as vice president of the Merickel-Farley Trout Club and is a member of the Anglers of the Au Sable, Fly Fishers International and the North Branch Boys.

The local chapter of Trout Unlimited meets monthly in Maumee and takes trips to locations where trout and salmon can be found.

“Even though the western basin of Lake Erie is not a hot spot for cold-water fish, Trout Unlimited is interested in local problems on the lake,” Dr. Christine Mayer, professor in the UToledo Department of Environmental Sciences and Lake Erie Center, said. “Most members are avid anglers who also care deeply about conservation.”

White’s talk is part of the Lake Erie Center’s Public Lecture Series.

A shuttle will be available to transport visitors from UToledo’s Main Campus to the Lake Erie Center and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories. Passengers must reserve a spot. Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

The Lake Erie Center is UToledo’s freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions to water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

Physicist’s review article featured on cover of high-impact, international scientific journal

A review article by Dr. Yanfa Yan, professor of physics at The University of Toledo, was chosen as the cover story for the February issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Yan is the lead author on the paper titled “Oxide Perovskites, Double Perovskites and Derivatives for Electrocatalysis, Photocatalysis and Photovoltaics.” He is an expert in theory of defect physics and electronic properties in semiconductors, materials synthesis and thin film solar cell fabrication.

“Energy & Environmental Science happens to be one of the highest impact-factor journals — with an impact factor of 30 — in all of science,” said Dr. Sanjay Khare, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “It is truly an achievement and honor to get such a cover page feature and invitation.”

Energy & Environmental Science links all aspects of the chemical, physical and biotechnological sciences relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. Its readership spans the globe and includes chemical scientists, chemical and process engineers, energy researchers, bioscientists, and environmental scientists from across academia, industry and government.

Practical utilization of clean energies requires energy conversions among solar energy, electrical energy and chemical energy, involving different processes such as from solar energy to electrical energy, from electrical energy to chemical energy, and from solar energy to chemical energy.

The key to realizing high-efficiency conversion is searching novel, stable, low-cost and environmentally friendly functional materials.

“Due to the extreme flexibilities in terms of their structures and compositions, oxide perovskites and their derivatives provide a rich family of materials candidates that may meet the diverse applications aforementioned,” Yan said. “This review highlights the progress of oxide perovskites and their derivatives in this field. It describes connections between the structural and compositional flexibility and the resulting tunable materials properties desirable for those applications.”