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Research Efforts Ranked Nationally
By Jeff Joiner
Oklahoma State University is getting noticed. The increasing publication success of OSU scientists has been noted by Nature Index, a publication of the journal publisher Nature. OSU was 19th in a ranking of the 25 most improved research institutions in North America by Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars. Rankings are based on journal articles published from 2012 to 2015.
Making the list, which includes the likes of Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities, means OSU is "making an impact on the scientific and scholarly communities," says Vice President for Research Kenneth Sewell. He added that the ranking "speaks highly of the quality faculty we've hired ... as well as our growth in the number and quality of our students."
Those successes can also be traced to a wide range of impressive studies underway at OSU.
Protecting and restoring habitat of pollinators
Research involving OSU and a wide cross section of collaborators is examining the management of rangeland habitat of native pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, to protect them in Texas and Oklahoma. OSU scientists Kristen Baum, associate professor of integrative biology, and assistant professor of integrative biology Monica Pape have joined researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, state wildlife officials in Oklahoma and Texas, an Indian tribe and conservation groups to choose habitats vital to threatened pollinators in the two states and launch restoration efforts. Restoration includes prescribed burning of rangelands and seeding native plants vital to pollinators.
The project includes the development of models to predict current and future distributions of threatened pollinator species including native butterflies, namely the monarch, and bees. Funding is provided by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its competitive State Wildlife Grant program that funds large cooperative conservation efforts.
Helping pilots sense and avoid unmanned aerial vehicles
A collaboration between faculty at the OSU College of Education and the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology will investigate the ability of pilots to detect and avoid collisions with unmanned aerial systems. The study by Jon Loffi, COE assistant professor in aviation and space, and Jamey Jacob, CEAT professor of mechanical and aerospace, along with a colleague from Polk State College in Florida, will look at “sense and avoid” methods and developing technologies to mitigate the risk of collisions. A challenge of integrating UAS platforms into the National Airspace System is the potential for midair collisions between manned aircraft and unmanned systems, according to Loffi.
“The varied size, color, configurations and operational applications of UAS make those platforms difficult to identify,” Loffi says. “We are trying to determine the visibility distance of various UAS systems to an alerted pilot flying a general aviation aircraft under Visual Flight Rules conditions.
The impact of historic hardship on American Indian women
An OSU scholar has received a grant to study the impacts of hardship on fertility among American Indian women in early Oklahoma history. Mary Towner, a human behavioral ecologist, along with a collaborator at the University of Oklahoma, will use historical data, such as the 1910 U.S. Census, to gauge the effects of migration and ethnicity on fertility variation. The National Science Foundation awarded the $203,000 grant.
The project will also explore how fertility patterns varied, depending on tribal nation and place of residence in Oklahoma.
“Although we know a fair amount about the high disease and death rates experienced by Native Americans forced to relocate to Oklahoma, much less is known about how women’s reproductive lives were impacted,” Towner says.
Gene expression and embryos
An Oklahoma State University scientist is studying the effects of abnormally expressed imprinted genes on embryonic development and maternal behavior. Integrative biologist Polly Campbell has been awarded a four-year $720,000 National Science Foundation grant to investigate an area of genomic research that has yet to be explored.
Campbell and collaborators will use advanced genetic tools and behavioral studies in mice to better understand how dysregulation of imprinted genes affects brain development and behavior, including regulation of a mother’s instinct to care for her offspring, which can be disrupted if imprinted genes are not expressed normally.
In humans, disrupted expression or deletion of imprinted genes is often associated with physical and cognitive abnormalities and is the cause of several genetic disorders, including Angelman syndrome and Prader–Willi syndrome.
“It’s important ultimately for human health to think about how dysregulation of these genes might potentially affect mothers and may correlate with imprinting disorders in humans,” Campbell says. “It’s an area that we really don’t understand yet.”
Reconstructing a 4-billion-year-old genetic code
In research conducted by an OSU microbiologist and a collaborator, the reconstruction of the genetic code of a single-cell organism that lived 4 billion years ago has opened the door to understanding the evolution of the genetic code found in all known cells today. Wouter Hoff, with OSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and a colleague in the Netherlands, worked with genomic and biochemical data to reconstruct the code of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), an organism some scientists believe is the origin of all life on Earth and is believed to have developed in extreme conditions surrounding deep sea magma vents.
Though their work, published in the journal PLOS ONE, did not address the controversial question of the source of life, their research did offer new insight into the evolutionary origin of the genetic code found in all cells.
“While many questions regarding the origin of the genetic code remain, this publication makes a clear step in elucidating part of the evolutionary development of this process that is so important for all living organisms,” Hoff says.
The political polarization of climate change opinion
Sociologist Riley Dunlap is a founder of environmental sociology, a relatively young field that examines the impact of environmental issues on humans and has increasingly supplied scholarship on issues taking a front stage in American politics.
Dunlap’s research includes the study of public concern and opinions with environmental issues, the environmental movement and research into climate change opinion. His latest published research looks at political polarization surrounding scientific theories of human-caused climate change. Dunlap and collaborators, including OSU doctoral candidate Jerrod Yarosh and Aaron McCright, Michigan State University, published the journal article, “The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S.”
Dunlap, et al, argues that as Americans increasingly identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, the possibility of compromise and passage of environmental legislation in Congress has become nearly impossible. This polarization is often encouraged by conservative groups, some of which advocate climate change denial.
“Their successful efforts not only helped to block national legislation ... but they led to skepticism and even denial of human-caused climate change becoming normative among Republican elites and activists. This has produced a Republican Congress that provides a sturdy legislative wall against Obama Administration climate change initiatives, and in general does its best to undermine growing evidence of the seriousness of climate change,” wrote the authors.
Mango, gut health and obesity
Recently published research by Edralin Lucas, professor of nutritional sciences at OSU, has shown the potential of consuming mango to lessen complications of obesity. Her research, published in the Journal of Nutrition, has shown for the first time that mice fed mango may experience decreased loss of beneficial gut bacteria in animals consuming a high-fat diet. Beneficial bacteria have been shown to play a role in reducing complications of obesity such as Type 2 diabetes.
“Mango is a good source of fiber and has been reported in previous studies to have anti-obesogenic, hypoglycemic and immunomodulatory properties,” said Lucas in an interview for Health Medicine Network. “The results of this animal study showed that adding mango to the diet may help maintain and regulate gut health and levels of beneficial bacteria.”
Growing algae to clean wastewater
What to do with wastewater produced by oil and gas production is a serious concern in Oklahoma, where a large increase in earthquake activity is blamed on injecting waste fluids from oil and gas production back into the Earth. Both energy companies and Oklahoma state officials are looking for options, and research at OSU may provide an answer. Nurhan Dunford and her OSU colleagues are developing strains of microalgae to treat wastewater from oil production as well as agriculture. Dunford, a biosystems and agricultural engineering professor, says that as certain species of microalgae grow in wastewater, they remove nitrogen and contaminates. The remaining biomass can be used as a feedstock or to produce energy as a biofuel. The process has been demonstrated successfully in the laboratory, Dunford says, and now the system has to be scaled up and tested at a commercially viable size.
Understanding tornado-caused injuries to dogs
Colleagues at the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences teamed up to write a journal article on their treatment of two dogs who were injured during catastrophic tornados in 2013 and treated at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital. Both dogs suffered traumatic lung damage believed to be caused by changes in barometric pressure during tornados.
The dogs recovered following surgery, and the cases were written about in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association by Brandy Cichocki, small animal surgery resident; Danielle Dugat, assistant professor of small animal surgery; and Timothy Snider, veterinary pathologist. The Veterinary Medical Hospital treated 60 animal victims from 2013 tornados.
“We believe the pressure change during the tornado caused barotrauma to the lung, leading to its rupture, impeding the dogs’ breathing,” Dugat says.
“Shortly after the dogs were operated on to remove the damaged tissue, the dogs were reunited with their owners.”
Are unethical employees more successful?
In research conducted by Rebecca Greenbaum, Spears School of Business, unethical behavior in the workplace is often not tolerated unless the employee is a high performer. Associate professor Greenbaum, and a colleague from Baylor University, wrote an article for Harvard Business Review in May describing their research into how the peers of unethical employees react to their behavior.
“In spite of the tendency to socially reject those who are unethical, we uncovered a double standard based on a person’s contributions to the bottom line,” the co-authors wrote. “Specifically, we show that unethical high-performing employees are less likely to be socially rejected by their peers, which implies that unethical behavior can be tolerated.”
The researchers found that unethical but high-performing employees “get a pass” because they can improve a company’s bottom line. They suggest companies examine priorities, emphasizing ethics over performance.
Obesity and depression in children
As the national epidemic of obesity grows in the United States, the problem is equally serious for children. Obesity among American kids has increased significantly since 1980 (1-in-20 in the U.S. is severely obese), and now OSU research reveals the psychological toll of childhood obesity.
A recent study has found that as early as first grade, severely obese children are more likely to be withdrawn and show signs of depression. Amanda W. Harrist, human development and family science professor of child development in the College of Human Sciences, led the study that looked at 1,164 first graders from 29 schools in Oklahoma. The schools were located in eight counties with adult obesity rates of 28 to 41 percent. Harrist and her collaborators found that the more overweight the children were, the worse the consequences.
"Children who are ostracized, as occurred with the severely overweight children in our study, suffer great harm, with feelings of loneliness, depression, and aggression, and these children are more likely to skip school and drop out later,” Harrist says.
The study, with collaboration from researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and West Virginia University, appeared in the journal Child Development.
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Uploaded on December 1, 2016