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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.

12-year-old UT student creates faster, cheaper way to make pharmaceutical drugs, agricultural pesticides

Like many 12-year-olds, Daniel Liu enjoys reading books and wears T-shirts covered in cartoon characters.

Unlike most boys and girls his age, Liu has been honored at the White House for his science achievements and is now a published scientific researcher at The University of Toledo.

Liu

The Ottawa Hills High School student has been taking classes at UT for more than a year through Ohio’s College Credit Plus program.

Liu is one of three members of a UT green chemistry lab team that created a chemical reaction that results in a faster, cheaper, more environmentally friendly way to make pharmaceutical drugs and agrochemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides.

The team’s research, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, shows how carbon dioxide in the form of dry ice is used to break up carbon-hydrogen bonds, reactions known as C-H activation.

“We showed that we could run this reaction with many different starting materials and produce very diverse products,” said Liu, a co-author on the paper.

“When you take an unreactive carbon-hydrogen bond, which is found in most organic compounds, and break it to convert it into a new type of bond, you make new molecules more quickly and more sustainably, especially in pharmaceutical and agrochemical molecules,” said Dr. Michael Young, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

That means, much like Liu’s skyrocketing academic journey, you skip grades or steps in the process, reducing the time and resources it takes to achieve results.

“This chemical reaction cuts up to five steps out of a process that normally takes six or seven,” Liu said. “C-H activation also improves overall synthetic efficiency. We found a way to potentially help patients, farmers and the environment when it comes to how medicine and pesticides are made.”

Daniel Liu worked in the lab with Dr. Michael Young, left, and Dr. Mohit Kapoor.

Dr. Mohit Kapoor, UT postdoctoral researcher in medicinal and sustainable chemistry, said Liu has demonstrated an incredible ability to learn and discover at the collegiate level.

“I now see him as a co-worker in my lab. He is a genius and a prodigy,” Kapoor said. “But I remember in the beginning thinking, ‘How could he handle all these things?’ He has proven that he has the knowledge. He can do the work properly and learns quickly.”

“While this is highly unusual, Daniel has unusual talent and great support from his parents,” Young said. “He has already taken most of the junior-level course work in the chemistry program. While he doesn’t have the emotional maturity or physical stature of an older student, he is intellectually advanced compared to his peers.”

Young, Kapoor and Liu are the three authors of the research paper. The scientists say Liu was involved in every step of the project, investing more than 400 hours of work.

“Daniel made many of the starting materials for the reactions and also performed many of the key reactions. He also remade the compounds to validate that we could do this, help make enough of them to characterize them, and prove they were what we said they were,” Young said. “Plus, he helped us craft the manuscript. He went through and made suggestions on how to present our work.”

UT has filed a provisional patent on the work, and the team is looking to market to pharmaceutical companies that make generic drugs.

“We’re excited about the potential to commercialize this because it is much cheaper and more easily recyclable,” Young said. “This really could be a benefit to the synthetic community.”

Liu’s passion lies in developing new pharmaceutical drugs to help people fight different diseases.

“I feel like this is the start of a career, and hopefully I can do more of this research in the future,” Liu said. “I’m starting work on a couple of these projects by myself. I simply want to help people.”

Liu started high school at the age of 10.

In 2016, Liu visited the White House and met President Barack Obama after winning the national “You Be the Chemist” challenge — defeating 30,000 other students. He was the youngest ever to win the Chemical Education Foundation’s competition.

Recently, he received high honors in the National Chemistry Olympiad.

Liu also is assistant principal cellist in the University orchestra. It’s one way he has become involved in UT’s vibrant, diverse campus.

“I had an adjustment period, but this is normal to me now,” Liu said. “I feel at home here and supported in my studies. I’m trying to take advantage of all that UT has to offer so I can keep learning and growing. I want to go to graduate school. I’m also considering medical school. I want to do more stuff that changes the world and helps people.”

Medicinal chemist awarded $2 million to study Alzheimer’s, drug addiction

The National Institutes of Health awarded two grants totaling more than $2 million to a synthetic and bioanalytical organic chemist at The University of Toledo whose research is primarily focused on Alzheimer’s treatment.

The National Institute on Aging awarded Dr. Isaac Schiefer, assistant professor in the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, $1.9 million over five years to continue developing a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded him $153,500 over two years to study drug targets to addiction centers in the brain.

Schiefer

At 33 years old, Schiefer is among the youngest investigators to receive this level of research support across all NIH institutes, according to NIH records.

“I am proud that my lab’s work in drug discovery and design at the University is garnering so much support,” Schiefer said. “Brain disease is heartbreaking, no matter if you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s or drug addiction. I hope to create new ways to understand how the brain works and help families find better treatment options for their loved ones.”

Schiefer developed a prototype molecule that improves memory in mice, which was the first step toward developing a drug that could be given to Alzheimer’s patients.

The prototype molecule was designed to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF. BDNF, a protein, is important for long-term memory, and patients with Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to have less of it. Schiefer said BDNF’s ability to heal damaged brain cells could be compared to how Human Growth Hormone, known as HGH, helps athletes recover from muscle fatigue or injury.

He received a $100,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Association in 2015 and a $10,000 grant from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in 2014. His research was recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Schiefer said his goal is to translate molecules created and developed in the lab at UT into the clinic as safe and effective therapeutics for patients.

Global climate disruption topic of June 5 lecture at University

A lecture discussing climate change and global climate disruption will take place Tuesday, June 5, at The University of Toledo.

Dr. Andy Jorgensen, UT associate professor emeritus of chemistry, will present this lecture at 6 p.m. in the Driscoll Alumni Center Schmakel Room.

Jorgensen

He will provide background information about global climate disruption and the human dimension of the problem.

“Attendees will get an idea of the changes in the climate during recent years, as well as the reasons and consequences of these changes,” Jorgensen said. “The last part of the talk will be about what can be done to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.”

Actions that the community can take to combat and reduce climate change include reducing waste, recycling, and driving less, Jorgensen said.

He is a Senior Fellow at the National Council for Science and the Environment. He developed climate change curricular materials that have been featured in a web-based repository titled Climate Adaption Mitigation E-Learning with more than 300 resources. Both NASA and the Natural Science Foundation have provided grants in support of his climate research.

For his efforts to educate the public on climate change, Jorgensen was one of the 2017 recipients of UT’s Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement.

Those who wish to attend the free, public discussion are asked to make reservations by Friday, June 1.

To register for the event, click here or call the Office of Alumni and Annual Engagement at 419.530.2586.

Law professor awarded visiting fellowship at Princeton University

Lee J. Strang, UT professor of law, recently was awarded a visiting fellowship at Princeton University for the 2018-19 academic year.

As a James Madison Program Fellow, Strang will continue historical and archival research on religion and legal education. 

Strang

While in residence, he will focus on completing his latest book, “The History of Catholic Legal Education: Struggles Over Identity.” The book is believed to be the first comprehensive historical study of Catholic legal education in the United States.

“This fellowship is a tremendous opportunity to learn from excellent scholars while writing my history of Catholic legal education,” Strang said.

He is the John W. Stoepler Professor of Law and Values at the UT College of Law. He teaches in the areas of constitutional law, property law, administrative law, federal courts and appellate practice.

Strang was appointed to the Ohio Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2016. The following year, he received the UT Outstanding Faculty Research and Scholarship Award. 

He is a leading scholar on constitutional law and interpretation, property law, and religion and the First Amendment. His publications include “How Big Data Increases Originalism’s Methodological Rigor: Using Corpus Linguistics to Recover Original Language Conventions,” which was published in the University of California at Davis Law Review in 2017, and “Originalism’s Promise,” which is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. He is editing the third edition of a unique multi-volume modular casebook, “Federal Constitutional Law,” for Carolina Academic Press. 

“The award of this prestigious fellowship recognizes both Professor Strang’s scholarly achievements to date and the promise of his scholarship in the future,” said D. Benjamin Barros, dean of the UT College of Law. “Already a nationally recognized expert in constitutional law, this fellowship will allow Professor Strang to work on an important new book on Catholic legal education.”

The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions is sponsored by the Department of Politics at Princeton University. The program is dedicated to the pursuit of scholarly excellence in the fields of constitutional law and political thought.

Faculty members recognized for outstanding scholarly and creative activity

With the support of University Libraries and a subcommittee organized by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, President Sharon L. Gaber and Provost Andrew Hsu have recognized 26 faculty members from across campus with outstanding contributions in scholarly or creative activity over the past three years.

These contributions include articles in leading scientific journals with high standing that have attracted significant attention in the community; monographs that were published by premier academic presses that have received positive external reviews; and exhibits or performances of creative activity that have received high acclaim.

“I am pleased that the University Libraries contributed by identifying UT faculty articles and books published in preeminent journals and publishing houses,” said Beau Case, dean of University Libraries.

“Faculty members are raising the profile of The University of Toledo across the breadth of disciplines and programs at UT,” said Dr. Frank Calzonetti, vice president for research. “The excellent work of faculty members in disciplines outside of science and engineering is quite impressive and sometimes goes unnoticed.

“All too often research grant dollars are associated with faculty scholarly and creative activity,” Calzonetti said. “In some disciplines, such as in biomedical science, faculty members cannot sustain their research programs that lead to discoveries and publications without external funding to support laboratory needs. However, in many disciplines, such as pure mathematics or history, external funding is not as critical to faculty success in scholarly and creative activity.”

“Given the many faculty members who have had outstanding contributions in scholarly and creative activity over the past three years, it was a tall order to determine just 26 who should be recognized at this time,” said Dr. Ruth Hottell, chair and professor of the Department of World Languages and Cultures, and selection committee member.

The following faculty members were recognized:

• Dr. Abdollah Afjeh of the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering;

• Dr. Ana C. Alba-Rubio of the Department of Chemical Engineering;

• Dr. Melissa Baltus of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology;

• Dr. Joe Elhai of the Department of Psychology;

• Dr. Kristen Geaman of the Department of History;

• Dr. Blair Grubb of the Department of Medicine;

• Daniel Hernandez of the Department of Art;

• Dr. Terry Hinds of the Department of of Physiology and Pharmacology;

• Dr. Bina Joe of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology;

• Dr. Dong-Shik Kim of the Department of Chemical Engineering;

• Dr. Kristin Kirschbaum of the Instrumentation Center;

• Dr. Ashok Kumar of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering;

• Dr. Beata Lecka-Czernik of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery;

• Dr. Barbara Mann of the Jesup Scott Honors College;

• Elizabeth McCuskey of the College of Law;

• Dr. Thor Mednick of the Department of Art;

• Dr. Munier Nazzal of the Department of Surgery;

• Dr. Kim E. Nielsen of the Department of Disability Studies;

• Dr. Michael Rees of the Department of Urology;

• Dr. Denise Ritter Bernardini of the Department of Music;

• Dr. Donald Ronning of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry;

• Stephen Sakowski of the Department of Theatre and Film;

• Dr. Yanfa Yan of the Department of Physics and Astronomy;

• Dr. Matt Yockey of the Department of Theatre and Film;

• Rebecca Zietlow of the College of Law; and

• Evan Zoldan of the College of Law.

New genetic analysis center at UT to accelerate research in disease prevention, detection and treatment

The University of Toledo Women & Philanthropy Genetic Analysis Instrumentation Center will be unveiled Thursday, May 17, at 6 p.m. with a ceremony in Health Education Building Room 100 on Health Science Campus, followed by tours of the facility located on the second floor.

The center, which increases the capability of UT researchers in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences to develop preventative, diagnostic and treatment strategies for diseases such as cancer and heart disease, was created with the help of nearly $60,000 from Women & Philanthropy, the largest grant ever awarded by the volunteer organization that supports UT initiatives.

A researcher works in the Women & Philanthropy Genetic Analysis Instrumentation Center.

“This is a critical investment that advances the research mission of UT,” said Marcy McMahon, chair of Women & Philanthropy. “We believe it will serve to improve public health and retain and attract talented scientists dedicated to curing diseases.”

“The center truly transforms work in the emerging field of molecular diagnostics,” said Dr. David Kennedy, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and co-director of the UT Women & Philanthropy Genetic Analysis Instrumentation Center. “By saving valuable time and using a high-quality process, it sets new standards for molecular testing and incorporates all workflow steps from sample preparation to genetic marker detection.”

“We are extremely grateful for the significant investment provided by Women & Philanthropy to establish the center, which will greatly enhance our capability to investigate numerous diseases and develop potential therapies,” said Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and co-director of the new center with Kennedy.

The researchers recently received three grants totaling $450,000 from the Ohio Department of Higher Education to support their water quality research into how exposure to algal toxins, such as microcystin, affects organ function and to create new therapies to prevent and treat organ damage, especially in vulnerable patient populations.

“Although scientists in UT’s Department of Medicine are involved in many cutting-edge research projects vital to human health areas, they lacked the ability to process and examine multiple human and experimental samples for genetic analysis without significant delay,” McMahon said. “The Genetic Analysis Center meets that need.”

The UT Women & Philanthropy Genetic Analysis Instrumentation Center also received more than $45,000 in support from Qiagen, a biomedical company headquartered in Germany, to help pay for instruments, including:

• The Qiagen TissueLyser II, a tissue processor that allows up to 192 biological samples to be processed at the same time;

• The QIACube HT, a DNA-, RNA- and protein-extraction system that uses nucleic acid to quickly and easily purify DNA, RNA, protein and miRNA from almost any type of sample, including cells, tissues and food, as well as from bacteria and viruses in animal samples;

• The QIAgility, an automated liquid handling system that provides rapid, high-precision setup for polymerase chain reaction, a technique used to amplify, or make many copies of, a segment of DNA; and

• Real-time multiplex polymerase chain reaction thermal cyclers that use a centrifugal rotary design to allow each reaction tube to spin in a chamber of moving air, which keeps all samples at each step of the cycling program at exactly the same temperature. The system contains integrated Q-Rex software for data integration and analysis.

UT medical student receives Sarnoff Fellowship for cardiovascular research

A third-year medical student at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences was selected as a 2018-19 Sarnoff Fellow.

Rahul Mital, who is studying to work in the field of pediatric cardiology, is one of nine students across the United States awarded the honor.

Mital

“This is a very competitive, prestigious award,” said Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and executive vice president for clinical affairs. “We are proud of Rahul and look forward to his achievements in cardiovascular research.”

The Sarnoff Fellowship program offers medical students enrolled in accredited U.S. medical schools the opportunity to spend a year conducting intensive work in a biomedical research facility in the United States other than the medical school in which they are enrolled.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity that lies ahead of me and plan to make the most of it,” Mital said. “Being a member of the Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation and partaking in world-class research while receiving mentorship and guidance is truly an invaluable step in achieving my goals.”

Rahul plans to study cardiogenesis, which is the development of the heart in the embryo, and how to use gene therapy as a potential treatment for congenital heart disease.

“No child deserves to be born with a congenital heart disease, but the unfortunate truth is that congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect, affecting 40,000 births per year in the United States alone,” Mital said. “If a greater understanding of the underlying pathophysiology is achieved, patient care can move away from expensive surgeries and lifelong follow-ups, and instead be focused at the molecular level.”

The full-time Sarnoff Fellowship is a one-year award of $32,000 for the 2018-19 academic year. Fellows also receive financial support for travel and moving expenses.

The 2018-19 Fellows were introduced at the Sarnoff Foundation’s 38th Annual Scientific Meeting last week in Boston.