Broadway producer visits College of the Arts

February 28, 2017
alumni, College of the Arts

UF alum miles wilkin at UF with students

Miles Wilkin (BSBA '70), a UF alumnus and innovator in the international entertainment industry, visited the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance February 21. Wilkin, the vice chair of The John Gore Organization, visited with students and gave a lecture about his life and career.

Wilkin has won numerous awards, including six Tony Awards for producing SpamalotHairsprayThe Producers, Fiddler on the RoofGypsy and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Wilkin has also been honored with a Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award from The Broadway League and a 2016 Special Tony Award, but he did not grow up in the theatre world. It was during his time as a business major at UF that he learned he was a natural leader after working on events like Gator Growl.

“These student organizations and activities taught me how to organize and build something, which was very practical and important for me,” he said. 

His experiences led him into a career in event programming, where he met people in the theatre industry. Wilkin went on to revolutionize the Broadway touring system through Broadway Across America, which brings theatre to people all across the country.

Reflecting on his career, Wilkin said that his favorite part has been the opportunity to work with some really great people and mentors. Wilken encouraged students interested in theatre to immerse themselves in the world and stressed the importance of meaningful relationships in what he describes as a “cottage industry.”

"Learn what you can in school where it's easy and OK to fail sometimes, and then go out and apply that knowledge and get practical experience,” he said. 

Campus Life

Allergies? Probiotic combination may curb your symptoms, new study finds

March 1, 2017
Brad Buck
allergies, probiotics

As we head into allergy season, you may feel less likely to grab a hanky and sneeze. That’s because new University of Florida research shows a probiotic combination might help reduce hay fever symptoms, if it’s taken during allergy season.

Many published studies have shown a probiotic’s ability to regulate the body’s immune response to allergies, but not all of the probiotics show a benefit, UF researchers say.

“Not all probiotics work for allergies. This one did,” said Jennifer Dennis, a doctoral student in the UF food science and human nutrition department in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and first author on the latest study.

Scientists already know that the probiotic combination of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, sold as Kyo-Dophilus in stores, helps maintain digestive health and parts of the immune system. They suspect that probiotics might work by increasing the human body’s percentage of regulatory T-cells, which in turn might increase tolerance to hay fever symptoms.

UF researchers wanted to know if the components in this combination probiotic would help alleviate allergy symptoms.

To do that, they enrolled 173 healthy adults who said they suffered seasonal allergies and randomly split them into two groups: Some took the combination probiotic; others took a placebo. Each week during the eight-week experiment, participants responded to an online survey to convey their discomfort level.

Scientists also analyzed DNA from participants’ stool samples to determine how their bacteria changed, because probiotics aim to deliver good bacteria to the human’s intestinal system. The DNA test also confirmed who was taking the probiotic, said Bobbi Langkamp-Henken, a professor of food science and human nutrition and a senior author of the study.

The researchers conducted the experiment at the height of spring allergy season.

Participants who took the probiotic reported improvements in quality of life, compared to those taking the placebo, the study showed. For example, participants suffered fewer allergy-related nose symptoms, which meant that they were less troubled during daily activities. 

Researchers note that this study did not include severe allergy sufferers. But the combination of probiotics showed clinical benefit for those with more mild seasonal allergies, Langkamp-Henken said.

According to other published research in the field, seasonal allergies can reduce sleep and productivity at work or school and can cause stress and embarrassment. Further, current allergy medications have unwanted potential side effects, including dry mouth and drowsiness; thus the need for alternatives, the researchers say.

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Science & Wellness

University of Florida among Peace Corps’ 2017 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges & Universities

March 1, 2017
Peace Corps

The University of Florida ranked No. 5 among large schools on the Peace Corps’ 2017 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges and Universities list. There are 58 Gators currently volunteering worldwide. In 2016, UF held the No. 3 position.

This is the third consecutive year that the UF has ranked among the top five large schools, ranking No. 3 in 2015 and 2016.

“Peace Corps service is an unparalleled leadership opportunity that enables college and university alumni to use the creative-thinking skills they developed in school to make an impact in communities around the world,” Acting Peace Corps Director Sheila Crowley said. “Many college graduates view Peace Corps as a launching pad for their careers because volunteers return home with the cultural competency and entrepreneurial spirit sought after in most fields.”

Since the Peace Corps’ founding in 1961, 1,365 alumni from the UF have traveled abroad to serve as volunteers.

Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining, hands-on experience that offers volunteers the opportunity to travel to a community overseas and make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

“The diversity on campus at the University of Florida afforded me the opportunity to learn from others' perspectives and experiences and opened my eyes to working internationally,” said Frances Snelling, a 2009 Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate who is currently serving as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic. “I have been able to see sustainability in many of my projects because of their nature to focus on skills and capacity building.”

This year, three schools in Florida are included in the 2017 national rankings. The University of South Florida ranked No. 18 nationally among large schools with 40 alumni currently volunteering worldwide and No. 3 among graduate schools with 18 alumni currently volunteering worldwide. Eckerd College also ranked No. 13 among small schools with 10 alumni currently serving worldwide.

This year’s rankings follow the launch of a refreshed brand platform that underscores the agency’s commitment to putting the user experience first and makes the Peace Corps more accessible to audiences through the platforms they already use. A simple and personal Peace Corps application process can be completed online in about one hour. Applicants can learn more about service opportunities by assignment area, country and departure date by visiting the Peace Corps website and connecting with a recruiter.

The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing colleges and universities annually according to the size of the student body. Below find the top five schools in each category and the number of alumni currently serve as Peace Corps volunteers. View the complete 2017 rankings of the top 25 schools in each category here and find an interactive map that shows where alumni from each college and university are serving here.

Global Impact

Powers named UF Teacher-Scholar of the Year

April 12, 2017
UF News

Scott K. Powers, a distinguished professor in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Performance, has been named the University of Florida’s Teacher-Scholar of the Year for 2016-2017.

Originating in 1960, it is the UF’s most prestigious and oldest faculty award. It offers an honorarium of $6,000 in addition to other appropriate recognition. In making the award, the Award Committee selects a faculty member who demonstrates distinguished achievement in both teaching and scholarly activity demonstrated through scholarly research, creative writing, original works of art, etc., and visibility within and beyond the university.

Powers is a physiologist who specializes in investigating the effects of muscular exercise and inactivity on both cardiac and skeletal muscle. Specifically, Powers’ research has focused upon exercise mediated changes in cardiac and skeletal muscle antioxidant systems and the role that these changes play in providing protection against ischemia-reperfusion injury. The current focus of the Powers’ laboratory is to investigate the mechanisms responsible for respiratory muscle weakness in patients subjected to prolonged periods of mechanical ventilation. Powers’ laboratory research has been funded by extramural grants from the National Institutes of Health, Florida Biomedical Research Program, American Heart Association-Florida, and American Lung Association-Florida.

In addition to conducting research, Powers is an enthusiastic teacher, having earned three University of Florida teaching awards. Moreover, he has co-authored four textbooks that are used in college exercise physiology courses.

In addition to teaching awards, Powers has received several academic honors including being elected President of the Southeastern chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (1986) and Vice-President of the American College of Sports Medicine (1997-99). Furthermore, Powers was selected as the Southeastern American College of Sports Medicine Scholar in 1995 and he has earned a Career Enhancement Award from the American Physiological Society. He has served on grant review study sections for the National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association-Florida, and NASA. Powers also serves on numerous editorial boards for scholarly journals and is currently a senior editor for the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Comparative, and Integrative Physiology.

Also, Powers was recently selected to receive the “Honor” award from the Exercise and Environmental Physiology section of the American Physiological Society. This is the highest award provided by this section of the American Physiological Society and recognizes an investigator that has made significant contributions to the scientific advancement of environmental, exercise, thermal, or applied physiology.

Winners recognized

Dr. Powers and the winners of the University Level Undergraduate Teacher of the Year, Undergraduate Faculty/Mentor of the Year and Professional Advisor of the Year Awards were recognized along with the College level winners of those categories, at a reception hosted by President Fuchs on April 6, 2017.

Ted Spiker, Undergraduate Teacher of the Year, Department of Journalism, College of Journalism and Communications

Monika Oli, Faculty Advisor/Mentor of the Year, Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Virginia Leigh Smadbeck, Professional Advisor of the Year, Heavener School of Business, Warrington College of Business

For more information on the university-wide awards and past winners, go to http://www.aa.ufl.edu/awards.

Campus Life

Culling sharks won’t protect surfers

March 3, 2017
George Burgess

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and coordinator of museum operations at the Florida Museum of Natural History, explains why culling sharks to reduce the risk of attacks will not work, despite the call from professional surfers to do so.

The warm and productive waters of La Réunion, an island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, are home to many types of tropical sea life, including apex predators such as sharks. Eight fatal shark attacks on humans have occurred there since 2011. After a body boarder was killed by a shark on Feb. 21, professional surfers Kelly Slater and Jeremy Flores called for aggressive shark culling around the island. The Conversation

Calls for sanctioned killing of sharks usually are the initial gut reaction from a community experiencing its first “Jaws” scare. Such sacrificial kills appear motivated in equal parts by a desire for revenge and the thought that killing sharks will ensure personal safety.

But shark scientists like me agree that there is virtually no chance to catch the highly mobile offending individual, and that there have been precious few documented cases of repeat offenders, or “rogue sharks.”

I study these attacks as curator of the International Shark Attack File (ISAF). Proposals for culling sharks reflect the anthropocentric notion that the sea belongs to humans, and we are owed complete safety when immersed. In fact, however, human actions have contributed to the shark-human dynamic around La Réunion, and culling will not substantially reduce the risk there.

Sharks are low-density, highly migratory animals that readily recolonize areas denuded of their kind, rendering any attempt to cull an ineffective strategy. And while Slater suggested that culling bull sharks around La Réunion might benefit other species, it is impossible in practice to limit shark hunts to target species. As a result, many nondangerous sharks are killed in an attempt to catch the few dangerous species.

Why are there so many attacks at La Réunion?

Periodically, a higher-than-normal number of encounters between sharks and humans occur in a discrete geographic area. In some cases those encounters result in bona fide attacks that cause major injuries or deaths. At ISAF, we have consulted with numerous state governments and local authorities over the past 30 years when these spikes occur. In every case we have identified specific natural or human-induced environmental disruptions or changes in patterns of human activities around water as likely contributors.

La Réunion has been on ISAF’s radar for five decades as an area with higher-than-usual per capita traumatic shark-human encounters. Over this time period the island population has doubled. There also have been noticeable habitat modifications – notably, degradation of nearshore coral reefs – which have reduced the abundance and diversity of the island’s fish communities. Since all parts of an ecosystem are inexorably linked, apex and near-apex predators are intimately affected.

Island residents are well aware that bull and tiger sharks are present and white sharks appear occasionally in La Réunion’s waters. These are the three shark species most often documented in serious shark attacks, and islanders know that the likelihood of encounters is higher in certain areas. The government banned swimming and surfing around much of the island in 2013, but surfing competitions resumed in 2015 at two beaches protected by safety nets and lookouts.

Lagoon, La Réunion. Mai-Linh Doan/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Tourism has increased in the region, and the number of surfers has risen over the past 30 years. As often is the case in emerging tropical tourist destinations, some visitors do not seek local information about safety conditions before entering the water, and suffer the consequences of wandering into a danger zone. Last week’s death reportedly occurred at an area that was officially closed to swimmers, but warning signs at the beach had been vandalized.

Growing interest in surfing among both La Réunion residents and visitors is especially significant because surfers are the single most shark-affected group among aquatic recreationists. Increased shark attacks since the 1950s in many areas of the world, including Florida, Hawaii, California, Australia and Brazil, are directly linked to increased hours spent surfing in the ocean.

Surfers and local governments can take steps to reduce risks, such as avoiding high shark-contact surfing locations, choosing appropriate times of day to surf, hiring shark spotters, improving rescue and medical capabilities, and educating the public about sharks. But surfers, who are among the most enthusiastic supporters of shark conservation, know that surfing is an activity that comes with inherent risk. Ultimately each surfer must make wise judgments about where and when to engage in his or her chosen passion.

The ocean as wilderness

The reality is that humans are visiting an alien environment when we enter the sea, and are engaging in a wilderness experience for which we often are poorly prepared. We all know we might drown, and we may suffer spinal injury, lacerations or scrapes if the surf tumbles us onto hard-packed sand or reef. Or we could be stung by jellyfish or sea lice, step on a stingray or be bitten by a shark.

The risk of being killed by a shark is extremely low. In 2016 only four people died worldwide as the result of shark attacks while engaged in all types of aquatic activities. Meanwhile, because of overfishing, shark populations have plummeted around the globe. Even great white sharks, the top dogs of the ocean, are legally listed as threatened or endangered in many areas of the world.

Fresh shark fins drying on a sidewalk in Hong Kong. Demand for shark fins, considered a delicacy by many Asians, is a major driver of overfishing. Nicholas Wang/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Authorities in La Réunion have determined that certain beaches present a higher shark risk to swimmers and surfers than other areas. Those beaches are closed to aquatic recreation, and people can learn about the risks from signs and word of mouth. Those who choose to ignore such warnings must accept the risk, just as surfers accept the degree of difficulty associated with surfing high-risk breaks.

And if a serious attack or a drowning occurs, no one should blame the sea or its denizens for our risky behavior. The sad truth is that thousands of drowned surfers are memorialized for dying while doing what they enjoyed, while it’s always the shark’s fault after the rare fatal attack.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

Engineering Professor awarded Jefferson Science Fellowship

March 6, 2017
UF News

Juan Claudio Nino will work with the State Department to evaluate domestic and international energy needs and identify more secure, renewable, and efficient energy options.

University of Florida endowed professor Juan Claudio Nino has been awarded a 2017-2018 Jefferson Science Fellowship by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Nino is one of 14 academic scientists, engineers and physicians who were selected from institutions of higher learning from around the country this year. Within the U.S. Department of State, he will work at the Bureau of Energy Resources in the Office of Energy Transformation, analyzing energy technology drivers, trends, and policies to support the integration of more efficient, secure, and renewable energy options.

Nino’s research focuses on ceramics, polymers, bio-inspired materials, and their composites. His lab is currently working towards the optimization and development of advanced functional materials for energy conversion and storage, high frequency and high temperature electronics, neural networks, and semiconductors and scintillators for radiation detection.

“Juan is a leader in materials engineering and in developing innovative energy solutions,” said Cammy Abernathy, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “He’s an ideal candidate for this fellowship, a great ambassador for the college and the university, and I’m proud to see him serve our country in this capacity.”

Nino earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. He was a lecturer at the Colombian Engineering School before joining Pennsylvania State University, where he completed his doctoral degree in materials science and engineering. His postdoctoral appointment focused on ferroelectric thin films at the Materials Research Institute at State College in Pennsylvania. He joined the University of Florida in 2003 and established the Nino Research Group (NRG), which focuses on the investigation of advanced energy materials towards enhancing their efficiency, performance, and sustainability.

He received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER and American Competitiveness and Innovation awards as well as the J. Bruce Wagner, Jr. Young Investigator award from the Electrochemical Society. In 2014, he received the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright U.S. Scholar Innovation and Technology award. Last year, Nino served at the National Science Foundation as an expert within the Division of Materials Research. He is currently an associate editor for the Journal of the American Ceramics Society, and a coordinating editor for the Journal of Electroceramics.

The 2017-2018 Jefferson Science Fellows are the 13th class selected since the program was established by the Office of the Science and Technology Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State in 2003. The one-year assignments will begin in August of 2017.

Global Impact

Gator alums debut new Nat Geo WILD show

March 7, 2017
Alisson Clark
Nat Geo WILD, College of Journalism and Communications, alumni, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, wildlife, conservation

WILD life

Global Impact

UF researchers send plants soaring into space

March 7, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Tags: NASA, International Space Station, UF Space Plants Lab, Space

Global Impact

UF named bike- and tree-friendly campus

March 9, 2017
Matt Walker

The University of Florida recently received two recognitions for its efforts toward sustainability and environmentally friendly practices.

For the first time ever, UF was awarded silver level status as a “Bicycle Friendly University” by the League of American Bicyclists.

Additionally, UF has earned Tree Campus USA recognition for the fourth year in a row by the Arbor Day Foundation. In order to receive this recognition, UF had to meet five core standards for sustainable campus forestry, according to the Arbor Day Foundation: establishment of a tree advisory committee, evidence of a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and the sponsorship of student service-learning projects.

“These recognitions reinforce UF’s commitment to a sustainable campus,” said UF Sustainability Program Coordinator Liz Storn. “It also shows that our efforts are being noticed and that we really can make a difference.”

UF has a number of programs and initiatives that helped it receive the silver level “Bicycle Friendly University” recognition, said UF Sustainability Office Manager Jacob Adams. This includes 13 miles of bike lanes and 22 self-service bike repair stations, the Gator Gears bike rental program, the UF Bicycle Working Group, its Sustainable Transportation Fair, and the What Moves You? Campaign, which encourages the UF community to choose sustainable transportation options.

There were several standout initiatives that led to the Tree Campus USA certification, said Storn, including a series of “Green and Clean” service learning events that allowed students, faculty and staff the opportunity to help remove invasive species and trash from open spaces on campus. The next Green and Clean event will be March 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the parking lot immediately south of the Pony Field.

The UF Sustainability Office also hosted a cross-campus Arbor Day Celebration near Lake Alice in early 2016, which included members of IFAS and President Kent Fuchs in attendance, Storn said. A Bermuda Cedar, Peve Minaret Bald Cypress, Easter Red Cedar and a white oak were planted, and School of Forest Resources and Conservation Director Tim White spoke, recognizing the importance of the trees.

Campus Life

Neil Gorsuch and the First Amendment: Questions the Senate Judiciary Committee should ask

March 13, 2017
Clay Calvert

Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, poses three questions for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for United States Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch are fast approaching. The Conversation

It’s time to consider some key questions about First Amendment speech rights the senators should ask during the constitutionally mandated advice-and-consent process.

These hearings often are contentious. That was the case for Justice Clarence Thomas in the early 1990s. And they surely won’t be a cake walk this time, given Democratic anger over Republican inaction on Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.

The First Amendment questions I’d pose to Gorsuch are critical because the man who nominated him, President Donald J. Trump, bashes the press as “the enemy of the people” yet proclaims no one loves the First Amendment more than he.

An obvious question for Judge Gorsuch is his view of the court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That five-to-four decision divided sharply along perceived partisan lines. It affected the speech rights of corporations and unions in funding political ads shortly before elections. Committee Democrats no doubt will grill Gorsuch about Citizens United.

As the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, I would like to suggest at least three other timely and vital questions he should be asked about speech rights – but that I doubt he will face.

Capturing cops on camera in public

The first question I’d pose to Gorsuch involves an issue the Supreme Court has never tackled – does the First Amendment protect a person’s right to record police officers doing their jobs in public places?

It’s a vital question in light of incidents such as the April 2015 shooting in the back of unarmed African-American Walter Scott by white police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. A video of it was captured on a smartphone by barber Feidin Santana while walking to work. It was key evidence in Slager’s murder trial – which ended with a hung jury.

Without guidance from the Supreme Court about recording cops in public venues, lower courts have had to sort it out for themselves.

Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded in Turner v. Driver that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.” That’s a positive step in terms of creating a constitutional right to record cops within the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But just what constitutes a “reasonable” restriction is extremely vague and problematic, especially because judges usually defer to officers’ judgments.

Worse still, some courts haven’t even recognized any First Amendment right to record police.

In the case of Fields v. City of Philadelphia, now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a federal judge ruled there is no First Amendment right to film police in public spaces unless the person recording does so with the intent of challenging or criticizing police actions. In brief, there is no First Amendment right to neutrally record police as a bystander or journalist in Philadelphia.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “Do citizens have a First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public places and, if there is such a right, what – if any – are the specific limits on that right?”

The right to protest in public places

Trump’s presidency ushers in a new era of confrontational political activism. Protests against Trump and rallies for him are common, with some ending in arrests. Berkeley, California – home of the 1960s free speech movement – saw 10 arrests this month when pro- and anti-Trump individuals clashed.

Gorsuch should be questioned about the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and the limits on that right affecting political demonstrations on public streets, sidewalks and parks. The Supreme Court privileges such “quintessential public forums” for picketing and protests, and it carefully reviews any restrictions imposed there on speech and assembly. Would Gorsuch follow that tradition of protection?

Disturbingly, The New York Times reported earlier this month that lawmakers in more than 15 states are considering bills that would curb, to varying degrees, the right to protest. Some measures, such as Florida Senate Bill 1096, do so by requiring a special event permit be obtained before any protest on a street, thus stifling spontaneous demonstrations that might occur after a controversial executive order or a startling jury verdict.

Requiring the government to grant a permit before one can protest constitutes a prior restraint on speech. Prior restraints, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found, are presumptively unconstitutional.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “What, if any, limits are there on the First Amendment right to engage in political speech in public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and parks?”

The right to offend

Finally, I’d ask Gorsuch for his views about the First Amendment right to offend. It’s an important topic today for three reasons.

First, protesters may use offensive language to capture attention and show the passion behind their views. The Supreme Court traditionally protects offensive political speech, as it famously did in 1971 in Cohen v. California. There it ruled in favor of Paul Robert Cohen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket with the words “F— the Draft” in a Los Angeles courthouse hallway.

Second, some believe there’s a pall of political correctness in society, particularly in higher education. Some students may be deterred from using certain language or expressing particular viewpoints for fear they will offend others and thus be punished.

Third, the Supreme Court is set to rule in the coming months in a case called Lee v. Tam. It centers on the power of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny an Asian-American band called The Slants trademark registration over that name because it allegedly disparages Asians. The court heard oral argument in the case in January.

I’d thus ask Gorsuch: “When does offensive expression - in particular, offensive speech on political and social issues - lose protection under the First Amendment?”

Gorsuch already has submitted written answers to the Judiciary Committee on some issues, but not on the questions raised here. These topics – filming cops in public, protesting on streets and sidewalks, and using offensive language – seem especially relevant in a turbulent Trump era.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

What will you create?

March 13, 2017
UF News
352Creates, College of Medicine, College of the Arts

For a second year, the University of Florida and the surrounding community will celebrate creativity with 352Creates. The two-day event March 24-25 invites everyone in the 352 area code to participate in pop-up art activities to promote healthy communities through creativity.

“This is a great way of encouraging everyone to learn about and become involved in the arts, helping to ensure that our university community continues to blossom as a place with rich and diverse educational and cultural opportunities,” said UF President Kent Fuchs.

On March 24, participants will “create in place,” making art wherever they are. 352Creates invites cultural groups, artists, community agencies, businesses and individuals to get creative. UF Health will host several free events on the Archer Road campus for faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors, including a mural project at noon in the UF Health Shands Hospital Atrium where participants will help design and color sections of a mural that will be installed later on campus. 

The following day, March 25, focuses on creating in the community, with a public event at Depot Park that features performances from UF hip hop dancers, improv comedians and a cappella singers, as well as a children’s imagination station presented by art education students. 

Depot Park is one of five community installations of the Before I Die Wall, a public art project where participants reflect on life, death and their personal aspirations. The project, one of more than 2,000 such walls in 70-plus countries, will also promote awareness of advance directives, which allow people to provide instructions for end-of-life health-care decisions.

Individuals or groups are invited to host free creative activities that are open to the public, regardless of creative experience or skill. The activities can include hands-on art-making, performance (such as music, song, dance, theatre, spoken word), culinary arts, gardening and contemplative arts (including mindful meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong).

For information on how to participate, visit the 352Creates website or find 352Creates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All events will be promoted with the hashtag #352Creates.

Presenting partners for 352Creates include UF Health, UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine, Arts in Medicine Programs at UF and the City of Gainesville.

Campus Life

University of Florida graduate schools rank high among nation’s top programs

March 14, 2017
Margot Winick

University of Florida graduate schools rank among the nation’s top programs in a survey released today by U.S. News and World Report.

Among the areas that the U.S. News’ 2018 “Best Graduate Schools” guide evaluates are graduate schools for law, education, business, engineering, medicine and nursing, and specialties within these areas. In each discipline, all or nearly all UF graduate schools were ranked.

Bright spots for UF included big moves in Law, the part-time MBA program, civil engineering and computer engineering programs, and the elementary teacher education program. UF highlights of the rankings are:

UF Levin College of Law climbed seven spots, placing 41st overall. This rise is the largest year to year increase in over 20 years, and is the second largest improvement of any law school ranked in the top 50.

Additionally, the Graduate Tax Program held its spot as the No. 1 program among public law schools, and No. 3 overall.

“Our new ranking is more than a number,” said Dean Laura A. Rosenbury. “It’s a reflection of the talent of our student body, the intellect of our faculty, the dedication of our staff and the commitment of our alumni.”

UF College of Education moved up one spot into a tie for 29th overall among private and public universities. The College of Education moved up one spot to No. 19 among public graduate education colleges, and remains No. 1 in the state of Florida and southeast U.S.

Two academic education programs remained in the top 10 in their specialty areas: Special Education at No. 5 and Counselor Education program tied for No. 8. The Elementary Education program rose five spots to a tie at No. 14. The UF College of Education remains the top-ranked education school in Florida, and the No. 1 ranked public college of education in the Southeastern United States. Recently, in January, U.S. News named the UF College of Education America’s Best Online Graduate Program in Education.

“The College of Education’s ability to thrive and be recognized with higher rankings during this period stems from the high quality of our students and our energetic faculty, and the generosity and dedication of our alumni, donors and the entire College of Education community,” said Dean of UF College of Education Glenn E. Good.

UF MBA at the Hough Graduate School of Business at the Warrington College of Business was honored as a top-20 public full-time and part-time program. UF MBA is the only program in the state of Florida to rank in the top 50 for full-time or part-time rankings.

The part-time MBA program moved up eight spots to the No. 20 overall program, making it the No. 14 public program in the country.

“Once again, the UF MBA program provides strong ROI for our students and alumni while serving as a thought leader in the state of Florida,” said UF MBA Assistant Dean and Director John Gresley.

UF College of Medicine held firm its No. 40 ranking among 140 medical schools in the country, and is ranked No. 16 among medical schools at public universities. UF remained the highest-ranking medical school in Florida.

“Our commitment to world-class research and education has been validated yet again by medical school leaders throughout the nation,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine.

“These college and program rankings are the results of a sustained dedication to excellence in both research and medical education,” said David. S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We are proud of this ongoing distinction. The company we keep among the best research medical schools in the nation could not have been accomplished without ambitions researchers and dedicated faculty in all of our health-related colleges. Ultimately, that benefits the many patients of UF Health.”

UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering moved up to tie at No. 42 nationally. Civil engineering program moved up nine spots to tie at No. 25, and the computer engineering program moved up seven to tie at No. 29.

To learn more about the criteria used to calculate rankings, visit U.S. News Best Graduate Schools website, https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools.

Campus Life

Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization?

March 15, 2017
Terje Ostebo

The director of UF’s Center for Global Islamic Studies explains that while the Muslim Brotherhood exists in the form of many local organizations as well as an international organization, research shows there isn’t a cohesive Muslim Brotherhood ideology.

The Trump administration as well as Republican lawmakers are seeking to introduce legislation that would designate the Muslim Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The Conversation

Many are questioning this move. The fact is that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been directly involved in any violent terror attacks in recent decades.

I have been studying Islam and politics over many years, and have learned that this is a highly complex phenomenon. Given its informal character and the diffuse nature of its organization, labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization is not as simple as it seems.

To understand the Muslim Brotherhood, we need to first know how it is structured, and what it represents ideologically.

The different groups

The Muslim Brotherhood exists both in the form of local organizations (in Egypt, Jordan and so on) and in the form of an international organization. The international Muslim Brotherhood has, however, little influence over any of the local organizations.

The point is that the term “Muslim Brotherhood” represents a broader ideological trend. There are numerous organizations and groups across the Muslim world that to a varying degree associate themselves with this current.

Some of them use the name of the Muslim Brotherhood, while others operate under different labels. One example is the National Islamic Front (NIF), that was established in the 1960 as the Sudanese Islamic Charter Front.

There are also a number of informal groups, such as the Ethiopian Intellectualist Movement, that rather selectively find inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood’s thinkers without appropriating the entirety of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology.

None of these groups could be characterized as branches of one unified Muslim Brotherhood. There does not exist any worldwide hierarchical structure. Nor are there any formal links between any of these organizations.

Most of them have produced independent thinkers and developed ideological profiles that focus more on local issues. All this makes it difficult to speak about a coherent Muslim Brotherhood ideology.

The origins and spread of the Brotherhood

The original Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schoolteacher. Its initial activities were concentrated in the town of Ismailiyah, in northeastern Egypt. However, due to al-Banna’s charismatic personality and skills as a community organizer, the group grew rapidly into a mass organization throughout Egypt.

Brotherhood members and Salafists praying in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Alisdare Hickson, CC BY-SA

It is important to note that the Muslim Brotherhood was not a political movement in the beginning. Instead, it was devoted to education and social work. It was also focused on enhancing religious piety among Muslims and countering Western influences during the colonial period by building an Islamic identity.

Joining the opposition to the British colonizers, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership reluctantly decided to participate in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in the 1940s. Its anti-colonial attitudes also led the organization to support the coup in 1952 which eventually brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power as president.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s strong popular support soon led to an open conflict with Nasser, who responded by suppressing it. In addition to filling up Egyptian prisons, Nasser’s policy produced thousands of refugees who became instrumental in spreading the movement’s ideas across the Muslim world.

Ideological diversity

While the Muslim Brotherhood’s initial political engagement was within a democratic framework, a more militant and anti-democratic substream gradually emerged within the movement.

The key figure here was Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian writer and thinker, who wrote the seminal book “Milestones.” He claimed that contemporary secular politics was reminiscent of the pre-Islamic “Jahiliyyah” (age of ignorance), and moreover, that “Hakmiyyah” (God’s sovereignty) could be restored only through armed struggle.

His teaching later inspired groups such as al-Qaida, and caused serious frictions within the Egyptian Brotherhood.

The main leadership made significant efforts to renounce the use of violence and to portray the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate reformist movement. This was evident in the Muslim Brotherhood’s struggle to participate in Egypt’s electoral politics. The authoritarian Egyptian regimes, however, blocked it from gaining much influence. Not until Mohamed Morsi became president of Egypt in 2012 did the Muslim Brotherhood ascend to power. That victory proved, however, to be short-lived.

Globally too the Muslim Brotherhood has been similarly ideologically diverse. For example, some local Muslim Brotherhood-associated organizations, such as those in Kuwait and Morocco, were initially influenced by Sayyid Qubt’s thinking. Later, however, they gradually abandoned such ideas. Others developed relatively pragmatic political programs.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, for example, did not challenge the local political authorities and developed rather cordial relationship with the Jordanian monarchy.

Islam and democracy

Ideologically, the Muslim Brotherhood as a current has commonly been categorized under the heading of “Islamism.” This ideology emphasizes control over the state as crucial for Islamization of state and society. There are different opinions, however, about what this means.

Various groups and individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood have over the last decades been engaged in elaborate discussions about their views on democracy and secularism.

However, there is still some ambiguity around certain issues. One part of this relates to the way the vast majority of Muslim Brotherhood organizations embrace Shari’a, or the Islamic law, as foundational for political and constitutional frameworks.

Muslim Brotherhood women. Gaynor Barton, CC BY

This relates to tensions between the belief in Shari’a as a divinely ordained authority and the acceptance of the popular will. Some tensions, for example, relate to the question whether Islamists would accept the outcome of a democratic election that does not necessarily correspond with their interpretation of Shari'a. Others are related to whether the Islamists would recognize the freedom of citizens to make individual choices in a state governed according to the Shari'a. Also, would they accommodate the rights of women and religious minorities?

The current situation

So what does this mean in assessing the current situation of the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Arab Spring, a 2011 democratic uprising that quickly spread in the Arab world, was viewed by many Muslim Brotherhood-associated groups as a moment to put their ideological programs into political action.

However, regional instability across the Middle East, political violence (in Libya and Syria) and the return of an authoritative regime in Egypt shattered such hopes. The political takeover by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as the new president of Egypt in 2014 and the subsequent banning of the Muslim Brotherhood seriously weakened the organization.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule further blocked debates around Islam and politics. Developments in North Africa have added to the setbacks. The post-Islamist Tunisian Ennadha Party, for example, has been losing in national elections.

All this has exacerbated tensions over the future of the Muslim Brotherhood. These developments have created a space for the emergence of more militant groups such as the Islamic State, although one should be careful not to draw explicit causal links.

Indeed, designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization could have the effect of limiting the opportunities for those Muslims who are attracted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s moderate agenda to engage in politics.

It could even accelerate recruitment to terrorist outfits – a possibility that the Trump administration might seek to take into account.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

My doctor says there’s a guideline for my treatment – but is it right for me?

March 17, 2017
Melissa J. Armstrong

UF assistant professor of neurology Melissa J. Armstrong explains why taking care of ourselves in concert with our doctors may not be as easy at it seems, despite guidelines galore.

Health care guidelines are produced in ever-increasing numbers. The National Guideline Clearinghouse, a U.S.-based public website compiling summaries of “clinical practice” (health care) guidelines, has over 1,000 entries and is updated weekly. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the U.K. has over 180 clinical guidelines. The Conversation

Health care guidelines cover all aspects of medicine, from using aspirin to prevent heart attacks and colon cancer to managing earwax and caring for athletes with concussions.

Health care guidelines impact policy decisions and care for individuals. Recent research, though, suggests that the public has only a vague understanding of what guidelines are and how they are developed.

This is consistent with my own experience as a physician studying best practices for patient engagement in guideline development. Most of my patients and focus group participants are unfamiliar with how guidelines are developed. This can lead to uncertainty for patients and contributes to controversy, such as debates about mammography guidelines.

What are guidelines?

Before widespread internet access allowed people to search systematically for scientific evidence, “guidelines” often reflected suggestions from groups of experts on how to best manage — or prevent — a medical condition.

Current high-quality clinical practice guidelines, though, are anchored in a thorough review of available medical evidence.

This has led some organizations to revisit recommendations made in older guidelines less firmly based on medical evidence. Last year the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services dropped recommendations for flossing of teeth from their dietary guidelines, though debate about this remains.

In this era of evidence-based medicine, various standards exist for developing clinical practice guidelines. These include standards from the Guidelines International Network and the U.S.-based Institute of Medicine. The Appraisal of Guidelines Research & Evaluation Enterprise (AGREE) publishes a tool to assess the quality and reporting of clinical practice guidelines.

While different in some nuances, international standards agree on core elements. Guidelines summarize what is known (and not known) about different tests and treatments for health problems. They then make recommendations for expected best care, with specific descriptions of how confident guideline developers are in the research and recommendations.

General guidelines may not work for all, and they may not be practical for all. From wwww.shutterstock.com

High quality guidelines are developed by groups of patients and other public representatives, professional subject experts (physicians and other health professionals) and guideline specialists. These individuals decide what questions to ask, examine all the available research, grade the research quality, consider other issues (such as risks, benefits, availability, personal preferences and sometimes cost), and then make recommendations about best medical care.

Some guideline developers, such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, seek public comment on plans for upcoming guidelines, draft evidence reviews, and recommendation statements to give the public a voice in the development process.

The reliance of guidelines on the best medical evidence means the recommendations are now less likely to be driven by panel members’ opinions and personal experiences. Practicing health professionals and the public can be more confident that recommendations are based largely on unbiased reviews of medical research and transparent weighing of benefits and harms.


The term “clinical practice guideline” is reserved to describe “recommendations intended to optimize patient care that are informed by a systematic review of evidence and an assessment of the benefits and harms of alternative care options.”

However, some recommendations labeled (by developers or the media) as “guidelines” are actually policy or expert consensus statements provided without a full systematic review of medical research or offered in the absence of helpful studies. For example, recent screen time recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement rather than a formal clinical practice guideline.

Even when guidelines are based on systematic grading of the medical evidence, sometimes different developers make different recommendations. These conflicts are confusing for patients and for health professionals. Inconsistencies may reflect different approaches to panel composition, reviewing and grading medical evidence, interpretation of the evidence and/or weighing of risks and benefits. The inconsistencies may also represent more concerning possibilities such as contributions from conflicts of interest.

Putting guidelines to good use

A common misunderstanding about clinical practice guidelines is that they tell patients and health professionals what to do. Rather than identifying one “best” answer, clinical practice guidelines summarize what is known about medical options and describe anticipated benefits and risks. This information can then be used by patients and health professionals during shared decision making, which combines patients’ values and preferences alongside the best medical evidence to make an individualized decision.

Many clinical practice guidelines are now publicly available on websites. One resource for this is the National Guideline Clearinghouse, which accepts only guidelines meeting certain quality standards and which summarizes key elements of their development.

Understanding guideline debates can also inform decision making, helping patients and health professionals know when there is uncertainty in the field.

Every medical decision is a personal one, and rarely is there a single “right answer.” Trustworthy clinical practice guidelines are an important tool for improving the delivery of high quality health care to a broad audience. Individual decisions, though, are best made when patients partner with their health professionals to understand the evidence and incorporate their own medical history and values to make the best decision in that unique circumstance.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

A serious and often overlooked issue for patients with brain diseases: swallowing

March 20, 2017
Don Bolser

UF neurologist Don Bolser explains why treatment of neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease should include attention to swallowing problems.

Recall that last time you had something “go down the wrong pipe”? You spent the next several minutes coughing, choking and feeling like something bad was in your throat. The Conversation

It may seem strange to say this, but count yourself lucky.

Your brain was making you do the right things to keep what you drank or ate out of your lungs. The path for air to enter our lungs, the larynx (or voice box), is very close to the upper esophageal sphincter, the entry point for food and liquids to our esophagus. This close anatomical relationship of these two entry points means the brain must coordinate breathing, eating and drinking to ensure the lungs get only air and the esophagus gets only food or liquids. This coordination happens unconsciously, so we never really think about it until we get food or liquid in our airway.

As it turns out, millions of people with brain diseases, including those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury, have impaired swallowing. As a result, they are unable to protect their lungs in the way that a healthy person can.

The result is that millions of brain disease patients are at risk for inhaling food and saliva into the lungs, leading to death by pneumonia or even choking.

Detecting and treating impaired swallowing is important, particularly as the nation’s nearly 70 million baby boomers continue to age. Impaired swallowing is associated with many conditions of the elderly, and it is often severely underreported. Clinicians may not detect it or may see it as a side effect of another condition.

As a neuroscientist who has studied brain diseases, I know of no pharmaceutical companies that have drug discovery programs aimed at restoring weakened swallow and cough. And yet, it’s a major problem.

Hard to swallow, easy to choke

An important part of swallowing is complete closure of the larynx while food is moving through the throat. Disordered swallowing, or dysphagia, limits the ability of the muscles in the mouth and throat to move liquid or food into and through the esophagus and on to the stomach.

This inability to protect the airways and lungs increases the risk of pneumonia or choking.

In addition, many people with brain disorders experience reduced coughing, or a weakened ability to activate breathing muscles to generate airflows that eject material from the lungs. Weakened cough is caused by problems with nerves in our lungs that detect foreign material or with the brain driving the respiratory muscles.

Disordered swallowing can also be caused by problems with nerves in the neck. For example, people who have had cancer of the head or neck often undergo extensive surgery to remove the diseased tissue. This process can inadvertently damage nerves that are important for swallowing.

Sometimes, the swallowing impairment, rather than the primary brain disease, actually leads to death. When swallowing is impaired, it is more likely that material will enter the lungs and trachea during eating or drinking. This is known as aspiration. Aspirated food or drink “seeds” the lungs with material that is coated with pathogens from the mouth. These pathogens are not normally present in the lungs and can cause chronic inflammation and serious bouts of pneumonia.

When a weak cough is a bad sign

In patients with acute stroke, severe swallow and cough impairments occur at the same time. Our research has shown that the risk of aspiration due to swallow impairment can be predicted by weakened cough in patients with stroke or Parkinson’s disease. These findings indicate that brain diseases can lead to multiple impairments in how we protect our airways.

Another way of thinking about this problem is that the nervous system has many tools, or reflexes, that it uses to perform certain tasks. Each reflex has a specific function, and the brain coordinates the time of occurrence of each to optimize the result.

For example, a cough can eject material out of the airways into the throat and out of the mouth. Swallows frequently occur just after coughs to move material that was deposited into the throat into the esophagus and then the stomach. The result is that lungs were cleared by coughing, and swallowing moved any remaining material out of the throat to prevent aspiration.

Nearly half of residents of long-term care facilities vulnerable to pneumonia

Patient in a care facility. Via Shutterstock. From www.shutterstock.com

Simultaneous impairments of cough and swallow lead to high aspiration risk. This high risk is due to seeding of the lower airways with harmful pathogens that increase the risk of pneumonia. Mortality rates of aspiration pneumonia have been reported of over 60 percent, leading to a US$4.4 billion medical burden from hospitalized patients alone in 1997. Aspiration pneumonia costs as much as $17,000 per hospital admission. Further, this type of pneumonia can occur in as many as half of long-term care residents.

When members of our research team talk to their friends about airway protection and its consequences, everyone seems to have a story. Most center around an older relative who had a brain disorder and the difficulties this person had eating. Often their relative choked when eating or had to eat special thick foods. These are signs of impaired swallow, cough and aspiration.

Speech pathologists specialize in diagnosing and treating swallowing disorders. They often recommend thick foods that are easier to swallow and less likely to penetrate the airways during swallowing. This clinical approach is the most well-accepted.

Some companies market devices that apply a weak electrical current to the neck to improve swallowing. The long-term benefit of these devices is controversial. Further, these therapies have not been shown to enhance a weakened cough reflex.

There are no drugs for the treatment of impaired swallow or cough. It appears that the pharmaceutical industry has not yet recognized the importance of prevention of aspiration in patients with neurological disease in disease outcome.

A team in Japan has promoted a comprehensive protocol using sensory stimuli such as menthol and capsaicin, the pungent ingredient in red peppers, to help elderly people who have serious impairments in swallowing. Their preliminary results show impressive improvements in reducing aspiration pneumonias in these patients.

There is a promising approach based on strengthening breathing muscles that has been shown to improve swallow and cough function in patients with Parkinson’s disease and stroke. This approach is called “expiratory muscle strength training,” and it is easy for health care professionals and most patients to perform. The extent to which this method can prevent pneumonia in at-risk patients is unknown at this time.

In short, while there are some promising approaches, there are no widely accepted therapies for restoring weakened swallow and cough in patients at significant risk of aspiration. Continued research on the fundamental neurological mechanisms of coughing and swallowing will provide a foundation for new therapies to reduce the occurrence and severity of aspiration pneumonia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

How a kernel of corn may yield answers into some cancers

March 21, 2017
Kevin Folta

Kevin Folta, professor and chair of UF’s horticultural sciences department, explains the relationship between a gene that controls cell identity in corn kernels and one that controls progression to specific cancers in humans.

Driving down a country highway in the Midwest can seem an endless ribbon flanked by green walls of corn, neatly planted in stately rows. But who would guess that a plant that feeds a planet might hold clues that could help us better understand, or perhaps cure, insidious human diseases? The Conversation

Recent research from Dr. Mark Settles at the University of Florida describes a deep evolutionary link between the processes that govern cell identity in a kernel of corn and those that turn a blood stem cell into a cancerous threat to human life.

Over my three decades as an academic researcher, I’ve been constantly amazed at how discoveries about fundamental cellular processes in plants parallel, or sometimes precede, discoveries in animals. While we share remarkably similar genetic blueprints, plants and animals are obviously quite different. Learning how two very different life forms draw from a similar set of instructions to meet threats or stop disease could lead to breakthroughs in both agriculture and medicine. It reminds us of why close examination of life in animals needs coinciding research tracks in plants.

The rise of new cell types

Early in life, a single fertilized cell multiplies in number. As time goes by, the growing number of cells begin to take on different fates – differentiation into various cell types. The processes that govern these changes must be precise, both for ideal function within their context in the organism and to constrain unbridled growth. The latter contributes to human disease, including various cancers.

A corn kernel is a complex structure composed of many tiny cells that have specialized jobs. The nutritional content of the kernel is dictated by the genetics and biochemistry of these different cell types.

Settles and colleagues analyzed mutant kernels with defective structures and content to unravel how different cells function and communicate while the grain is growing and filling with nutrients. Errors in cell differentiation can lead to discovery of the genes that guide a kernel’s normal development.

The majority of a kernel is a starchy matrix called the endosperm. Settles and colleagues show that specialization of cell types depends on what’s known as an RNA splicing factor. DNA is the blueprint in the cell. RNA is a temporary and mobile copy of the DNA’s information that later directs assembly of proteins to perform important roles in the cell.

Because it is an intermediate, RNA is subject to many forces that can affect the information it contains. One of these processes is splicing; the cell has mechanisms that can remove essential bits, changing the information and, ultimately, the end product.

Settles’ mutant kernels are defective because they lack this RNA splicing factor. In other words, without the RNA splicing factor, the genetic blueprint information that needs to be precisely processed for normal growth remains untouched. This defect leads to cells that divide excessively, similar to cancer cells. But the link goes deeper.

From kernels to cancers

Corn kernel cell identity is governed by a gene that is common to a type of blood cancer. Mark Settles, University of Florida, CC BY-SA

Blood is composed of different cell types that arise from genetic decisions made in primary “stem” cells. Like the cells in a kernel of corn, blood cells specialize based on precise editing of internal instructions, including RNA splicing.

Medical researchers have described a blood defect that leads to a disease known as myelodysplasia, or MDS. This disease can progress into acute myeloid leukemia.

The work by the Settles group shows that the defects observed in the corn kernels are the same genetic errors, or mutations, in blood cells that lead to some forms of MDS. Genetic mistakes in both corn cells and blood cells affect a similar suite of genes, even though these are very different organisms. This is a remarkable discovery, because it suggests that animal and plant processes that determine cell identity share more similarities than previously thought.

But corn kernel cells and blood cells are remarkably different. Can the differences maybe help identify mechanisms in controlling corn kernel cell proliferation that might lead to discovery of ways to curb blood disorders like MDS?

In this work, examination of a corn cob with deformed kernels and poor yield led to potential solutions in improving grain yield. However, the knowledge gained could help illuminate new mechanisms to fighting a form of cancer.

From animal to plant; plant to animal

Corn plants in a field. From www.shutterstock.com

The findings remind us of why it is important to study basic plant biology, the kind of work that does not directly translate to the plate. Plants and animals share many commonalities. More than half of our genes perform similar functions, and we share many core metabolic mechanisms.

But plants are confined by their roots and can’t move away from stresses, disease or predators. They have to fight back or adapt in order to survive. A substantial part of their genes are dedicated to these processes. These mechanisms of survival are often not present in animal cells or are not as conspicuous. Plants can often define new rules that expand existing models, and their chromosomes may hold more tricks that ultimately can help the human condition.

Here defective corn kernels show similarities to cancer cells. Now scientists can extend from those commonalities to look for the differences that can correct or compensate for the defect in plants. Such discoveries may unveil mechanisms that plants evolved in their specialization that could potentially lead to new solutions for confronting human disease.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

International conference inspires educators to be the change

March 21, 2017
UF Lastinger Center

click to launch story

Global Impact

Thomas Maren, creator of glaucoma drug Trusopt, inducted into Florida Inventors Hall of Fame

March 22, 2017
Joe Kays

Dr. Thomas Maren, a founding father of the University of Florida College of Medicine whose four decades of basic scientific research led to the development of a top-selling drug for glaucoma, has been inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame

Maren arrived on the UF campus in 1955 and continued working as a graduate research professor until months before his death at the age of 81 in 1999.

Maren gained international recognition for his pioneering investigation of an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase and its role in fluid production and flow in the eyes, brain, spinal cord and lymph system. In 1995, his years of collaborative research with scientists at Merck and Company resulted in an eye drop for glaucoma called Trusopt which worked without many of the side effects of earlier oral medications, such as fatigue, anorexia and numbness in the extremities.

“I began working on developing a drug that could be given as drops rather than by the mouth,” Maren said in an oral history interview. “That was the big advance. That might not sound like a very big deal, but for 25 years it was regarded as an impossibility. That dogma was that a drug of this type had to be given orally. We showed that this was incorrect, hence the success of Trusopt.”

UF licensed the drug to Merck and it has brought more than $250 million in royalties to the university for reinvestment in new research. Maren also generously donated much of his own royalties back to the university to support research and education.

Dr. Jeffrey R. Martens, the Thomas H. Maren Professor and chair of the UF Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, wrote in a letter supporting Maren’s nomination to the Hall of Fame that “the impact of these funds, both in terms of scholarship development and continued research opportunities, cannot be underestimated.”

“The University of Florida, the state of Florida and the world have benefitted from the invention and success of Trusopt and each will continue to benefit from the legacy of Dr. Maren’s work and the Maren Foundation far into the future,” Martens wrote.

David Day, director of UF’s Office of Technology Licensing, noted in his letter nominating Maren to the Inventors Hall of Fame that Maren valued highly his role as a teacher and research mentor.

“His work at UF involved his mentoring of young doctors and researchers within the institution, who then carried their expertise to their patients and research labs in Florida and indeed around the nation,” Day said.

Maren will be inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame at a ceremony in September.

Global Impact

UF and UW-Madison scholars team up to diversify STEM

March 23, 2017
Alisson Clark
University of Wisconsin, NCAA, CISE

The University of Florida and the University of Wisconsin–Madison face off in the NCAA tournament Friday, but when it comes to recruiting, the two schools are on the same team.

Juan Gilbert, the Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Chair at UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, and Jerlando F. L. Jackson, Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education at UW–Madison, have created a National Science Foundation pilot program to help recruit and support African-American and Latino graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Consortium of Minority Doctoral Scholars will analyze three leading organizations’ efforts to recruit, retain and mentor underrepresented students in STEM, identifying ways to diversify both industry and academia. The partnership was one among the first efforts funded through NSF INCLUDES, a nationwide initiative to make the United States more competitive in science and engineering by improving access to STEM careers.

“We live in a globally competitive market,” says Gilbert, the chair of UF's Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering. “China has a billion people, and the U.S. has 300 million. From a quantity perspective, we’re at a severe disadvantage. But quality counts more than quantity. We need to diversify our workforce to get better ideas.”

The consortium will create a portal that incorporates data from the Southern Regional Education Board’s Doctoral Scholars Program, GEM Fellowships and McKnight Doctoral Fellowships, sharing information never before available outside of those organizations.

“This will be among one of the first opportunities for longitudinal understanding of education and career pathways for African-Americans and Latinos in engineering and computer science,” Jackson says.

For Gilbert and Jackson, the consortium is the latest effort in a 12-year collaboration that has generated up to 75 percent of research published on African-Americans in computing since the 1990s. They also work together on the Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences, an NSF-funded project that includes the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Carnegie Mellon University, Rice University and Winston-Salem State University.

Global Impact

Most dengue infections transmitted in or near home

March 23, 2017
Rachel Wayne

Study findings could aid in interrupting transmission chains and reducing severe illness

The majority of dengue virus infections appear to happen very close to home and are transmitted from the same family of mosquitoes, suggests new research led by the University of Florida and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The findings, published in the March 24 issue of Science, offer new insights into the spread of dengue, which infects more than 300 million people each year, and other flaviviruses such as West Nile and Zika – think Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood hit hard by Zika last year — and how governments and individuals might put in place more targeted and more effective mosquito control programs.

For their study, the researchers genetically sequenced the viruses of 640 dengue infections that occurred in densely populated Bangkok, Thailand, between 1994 and 2010. They then overlaid this information on a map showing where 17,291 people infected with the disease lived. Their results showed that in cases where people lived fewer than 200 meters apart — that is, in the same neighborhood — 60 percent of dengue cases resulted from the same transmission chain, meaning they stemmed from the same mosquito or family of mosquitoes.

In people who were separated by a wider distance of one to five kilometers, just 3 percent of cases came from the same transmission chain, said the study’s senior author, Derek A.T. Cummings, a professor of biology at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and an adjunct professor at the Bloomberg School.

“Our findings suggest that large urban centers provide a source of dengue [genetic] diversity that could possibly be dispersed to other areas of the country and world,” Cummings said.

However, in the areas of Bangkok with the highest population density, the researchers found less diversity than expected.

“This suggests that these areas might be where intense competition is occurring between dengue viruses,” Cummings added.

The researchers estimate that 160 separate chains of transmission co-circulate in Bangkok within a “dengue season,” which in Thailand is usually autumn. Across the city, they found that larger populations of people support a larger diversity of dengue viruses.

While the related dengue viruses stay close to home in a single dengue season, the viruses eventually mix across the country by the next season. Despite the eventual cross-country mixing, the researchers say that the virus strains stayed mostly within the borders of the country, and they aren’t entirely sure why.

“We often think that pathogens don’t respect borders,” said study lead author Henrik Salje, PhD, from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. “While clearly there is a lot of human mobility between the countries in the region, it does not appear to be enough to connect their dengue epidemics.”

This has important implications for the introduction of dengue vaccines, which are starting to be rolled out, as individual countries will have to rely on their own efforts to control the disease, he said.

Forty percent of the world’s population is at risk of the virus, which is most common in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific islands and has been rapidly increasing in Latin America and the Caribbean. While most of the people who contract dengue survive with few or no symptoms, more than two million annually develop what can be a dangerous hemorrhagic fever, which kills more than 25,000 people each year — mostly children.

The study “Dengue diversity across spatial and temporal scales: Local structure and the effect of host population size” was authored by Henrik Salje, Justin Lessler, Irina Maljkovic Berry, Melanie Melendrez, Timothy Endy, Siripen Kalanayarooj, Atchareeya A-Nuegoonpipat, Sumalee Chanama, Somchai Sangkijporn, Chonticha Klungthong, Butsaya Thaisomboonsuk, Ananda Nisalak, Robert Gibbons, Sopon Iamsirithaworn, Louis Macareo, In-Kyu Yoon, Areerat Sangarsang, Richard Jarman and Derek Cummings. Collaborators were from the Institut Pasteur, Johns Hopkins University, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Upstate Medical University of New York, Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, the National Institute of Health of Thailand, the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, the International Vaccine Institute and the University of Florida.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01 AI102939-01A1 and R01AI114703-01), the National Science Foundation (BCS-1202983) and the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System, a Division of the Armed Services Health Surveillance Health Center.

Science & Wellness

Show Me the Mini

March 23, 2017
Alisson Clark
Harn Museum of Art

Harn Museum of Art displays miniature works of Asian Art

Small things are a big deal at the new exhibition “Show Me the Mini.”

Visitors to the University of Florida’s Harn Museum can get up close to diminutive cricket cages, a tiny altar from 16th century India and a dollhouse-size table and chairs from the Ming dynasty — complete with steamed buns and fruit.

The exhibition marks the five-year anniversary of the Harn’s David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing and includes more than 100 miniature works, from Neolithic vessels to contemporary installations.

tiny books in a hand

Ryuto, 19th century miniature album, ink and color on paper. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Kathleen M. Axline Acquisition Endowment

“The art of miniatures is often an overlooked theme in Asian art,” said Jason Steuber, the Harn’s Cofrin Curator of Asian Art. “The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to remind viewers that art comes in all shapes and sizes.”

To reveal the secrets of these miniature works, researchers from UF’s Nanoscience Institute for Medical and Engineering Technology used 3D nanoscans to see inside of several of the pieces, including a rolled embroidered scroll, interlocking wooden rings and seeds and nuts shaped out of clay. Take a look at the guidebook near the exhibition’s entrance to see what they discovered.

The free exhibition continues through Nov. 25, 2018. Upcoming programs include a gallery talk April 2 at 3 p.m., Family Day April 8 from 1-4 p.m. and Museum Nights May 11 from 6-9 p.m.

Find out more at harn.ufl.edu/showmethemini.

Campus Life

University of Florida to host National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities

March 27, 2017
Margot Winick

Third National Summit focuses on comprehensive, evidence-based approaches to wellness

On April 6 and 7, the University of Florida will host the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities’ (BHAC) third summit on best practices in promoting and sustaining wellness in academic settings. The biannual conference, launched in 2013 at The Ohio State University, brings together transdisciplinary leaders, faculty, students and staff from academic institutions of all sizes, as well as policy makers from professional organizations and academia who are committed to improving health and wellness outcomes in institutions of higher learning and their surrounding communities.

BHAC is a rapidly growing organization for academic institutions that facilitates and supports optimal health and wellness in faculty, staff and students through innovation, collaboration and evidence-based programming. Multiple studies show that strong wellness cultures and programs in organizations lead to reductions in healthcare costs and health insurance premiums and, most importantly, healthier and more engaged faculty, staff and students.

“UF is excited to partner with BHAC and to serve as the host for this conference,” said Jodi Gentry, Vice President for UF Human Resources. “We all benefit from a healthy environment, and exploring evidence-based practices helps us better understand the impact of programs and approaches on our university community, culture and climate. As a preeminent university, we are proud to take a leadership role in furthering these efforts.”

Among the program will be a presentation on UF’s Field and Fork Program, which creates awareness about food insecurity and sustainable food practices and educates the UF community on how to make balanced food choices. The Field and Fork Campus Food Program Pantry supports students, faculty and staff who need help finding healthy food for themselves and their families.

Other presentations by academics from about a dozen universities will cover topics such as implementing a cost-effective, comprehensive wellness programs in a university setting; combining mental health treatment and exercise is medicine; healing with arts; managing stress in the classroom to improve learning; collecting mental health data on campus; and using data to build a healthier academic community.

Keynote speakers include:

Behavior change expert Kathy Dempsey, RN, MED CSP, President, Keep Shedding! Inc. 

Global physician executive Ray Fabius, M.D., Co-Founder of HealthNEXT, Harvard Shool of Public Health

Neuroscientist Amishi Jha, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Director, Contemplative Neuroscience, UMindfulness Initiative, University of Miami

Raj Patel, Ph.D., Professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, author of “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System”

Bernadette Melnyk, Ph.D., RN, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, Associate Vice President for Health Promotion, University Chief Wellness Officer and Dean, College of Nursing, The Ohio State University 

Additionally, “Dancing With the Stars” pro Louis van Amstel will lead the group in a LaBlast wellness activity.

For registration and more information, visit https://healthyacademics.org/national-bhac-summit-2017

Science & Wellness

Saving coffee in Papua New Guinea

March 28, 2017
Stephenie Livingston

A UF team’s novel methods are helping farmers at home and abroad fight agricultural pests

An insect no bigger than a grain of rice is threatening coffee worldwide, but a team of University of Florida researchers is using some unconventional thinking to stop it in its tracks.

The team’s collaboration with locals led to the early identification of the world’s most damaging coffee pest in Papua New Guinea – one of only two coffee-producing countries free of it, before now. 

Known as the coffee berry borer and capable of decimating 80 percent of a coffee crop, the beetle is notorious in places like Hawaii and Brazil, where it has devastated coffee production. In February, careful inspection by the UF-trained Coffee Industry Corporation in Papua New Guinea led to its discovery in a container of beans.

The proactive training will likely save coffee in Papua New Guinea, which is the backbone of its economy, said Jiri Hulcr, a forest entomologist with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“We’re being proactive by looking at agricultural pests abroad and at home, and informing our government as well as developing nations about potential threats,” Hulcr said. “Usually the focus is on places where infestations have taken hold, but we aim to save commodities in places that remain untouched.”

Jiri Hulcr, a forest entomologist with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, during field research in Papua New Guinea.

UF doctoral student Andrew Johnson during field research in Papua New Guinea.

A coffee berry borer infestation of a coffee bean is shown here. Photo courtesy of Jiri Hulcr

A coffee berry borer infestation of a coffee bean is shown here. Photo courtesy of Jiri Hulcr

Hulcr has worked at home in the U.S. and abroad to save commodities like avocados, pine trees, mangos and figs from dangerous pests. He said the proactive training that led to early identification of the berry borer in Papua New Guinea will inform future work in the U.S.

Hulcr and his team spent the last two years preparing New Guineans for what to do if they encountered the beetle. His team trained local inspectors to survey coffee crops throughout the country, recognize damage symptoms, take high-quality photographs of any suspect using microscope camera equipment, and email the images to Hulcr’s lab at UF for identification.

“They have been ready for this,” he said. “The trouble is they have lots and lots of local species that look like it, but the native beetles don’t cause any damage. It requires training to identify the real pest among many imposters.”

Training drills gave way to the real sighting when local inspectors examined a specimen under the microscope. Realizing it was the invasive berry borer, they sent a photo to Hulcr’s lab where the detection was confirmed.

As instructed by the UF team, New Guinean authorities immediately started a survey to delimit the distribution of the small outbreak and embarked on an aggressive mission to eradicate it. The correct identification of the pest, which allowed authorities in Papua New Guinea to trigger this early eradication response, was the culmination of two years of UF-led training, Hulcr said.

Andrew Johnson, a doctoral student in UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, trained local entomologists to identify signs of the beetle’s infestation. Meanwhile, Craig Bateman, a UF doctoral student with the department of entomology and nematology, helped authorities in Papua New Guinea build a lab capable of performing insect DNA extraction, which helps scientists confirm species identification.

“I organized the renovation of the lab and acquisition of totally modern molecular equipment to the eastern highlands, plus gave lectures and demonstrations to extension agents and scientists there. Weekends included field training, where we visited coffee gardens around the highlands and coastal provinces, talking to farmers, scientists and extension agents,” Bateman said.

“It is great to consider all the accomplishments we’ve had in New Guinea and elsewhere. Our work has direct benefits of increased food security and infrastructure for agricultural research,” he added.  

UF doctoral student Craig Bateman is shown here training New Guinean authorities to spot the coffee berry borer in Papua New Guinea’s coffee.

UF doctoral student Craig Bateman is shown here training New Guinean authorities to spot the coffee berry borer in Papua New Guinea’s coffee.

Now that the beetle has been found, inspectors will visit the farm of origin, examine plants for signs of the insect and destroy any that might be infested. Early detection is key to stopping the borer and other pests, Hulcr said.

“We prepared them, gave them good information and good training, and now they are working to eradicate the pest themselves,” he said. 

A local coffee inspector at a coffee farm in Papua New Guinea.

A local coffee inspector at a coffee farm in Papua New Guinea.

Global Impact

Our expert’s favorite titles for International Children’s Book Day

March 30, 2017
Alisson Clark

In time for International Children’s Book Day April 2, professor and book blogger Katie Caprino shared some of her top picks for early readers, middle grades and young adults. Caprino teaches children’s literature to future educators at the University of Florida and shares her favorite titles on her blog, Katie Reviews Books. She offered these suggestions:

Celebrate diversity and great writing

Caprino loves the new short story collection “Flying Lessons & Other Stories,” published in partnership with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

flying lessons book cover

“There’s a movement to bring in diverse authors and characters, which this book does, and it’s also quality literature from some really well known authors. It can help spark discussions about the similarities everyone goes through when growing up, as well as the differences.” Middle and high-schoolers can read the book on their own, but Caprino also suggests it as a read-aloud to share with younger kids.

Look for interactivity

In books like “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and “We are in a Book!,” Caldecott Award-winner Mo Willems brings the reader into the action. Caprino loves Willems’ latest, “Nanette’s Baguette,” as a read-aloud for adults and kids to share.

“There’s a relationship between the text and the reader, so it can be read aloud in a way that’s inviting and exciting,” she said.

Looking ahead to summer reading, Sarah Williamson's “Where Are You?” (available June 6) invites young readers to search through the pages to find the characters — even if they can’t actually read.

book cover of where are you

“You can get kids involved in making meaning from the book without being able to read,” Caprino says. “Reading the pictures is a good entrée into learning to read the text.”

Try the Caprino Test

“My litmus test is if the illustrations are so beautiful that I want to rip the book apart and frame the pages on my wall, that’s a great book. Of course, I don’t actually rip books apart,” Caprino says. 

If the illustrations in a picture book move you, go with your gut. Can’t make it to a brick and mortar bookstore to flip through the pages? Gilbert Ford’s luminous blue and purple illustrations in Kathryn Gibbs Davis’ “Mr. Ferris and his Wheel” get Caprino’s seal of approval for early readers, as do Kenard Pak’s watercolors for Rita Gray’s “Flowers are Calling.”

Lure reluctant readers with graphic novels


If you think graphic novels are all superhero boom-pow, take another look. Not only can they be pithy and provocative, they can build reading confidence. For middle grades, Caprino recommends Raina Telgemeier’s “Ghosts,” which tackles illness, moving to a new place and, yes, ghosts.

Change it up with verse

Books in verse aren’t just for little kids, Caprino says, they’re great for middle grades and young adults, too.

“A big book can be less intimidating when it’s broken up into in chunks of verse,” she said.

She counts the freeform poetry of “Inside Out and Back Again,” Thanhha Lai’s semi-autobiographical tale of a 10-year-old girl settling in Alabama after fleeing Vietnam, as one of her all-time favorites. For older kids, Kwame Alexander’s “Booked” ventures into divorce, first love and bullies.


Don’t overlook nonfiction books

True stories can be as fun as fiction. For younger readers, try the Golden Gate origin story “This Bridge Will Not Be Gray” by Dave Eggers, or author/illustrator Melissa Sweet’s “Balloons Over Broadway,” about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sweet even manages to make the backstory of a reference book riveting, Caprino says, with the lavish illustrations for “The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus.”

inside pages of the right word book

Society & Culture

UF student earns Goldwater Scholarship

March 31, 2017
Mark Law

The Goldwater Foundation has announced that University of Florida student and John V. Lombardi Scholar Mihael Cudic has been selected for a Goldwater Scholarship. UF sophomore Samuel Swanson was also recognized by the Goldwater Foundation with an Honorable Mention. The Goldwater Scholarship was created to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering, and to foster excellence in those fields.

This year 1,286 students from 470 institutions were nominated for a Goldwater scholarship. The foundation named 240 new Goldwater Scholars and identified 307 students as Honorable Mentions.

Cudic is junior majoring in electrical engineering and plans to earn a Ph.D. in computational neuro-engineering in order to pursue research in artificial intelligence and eventually teach at the university level. He has spent the past two summers studying differential mathematical modeling at the University of Cambridge, UK, and works in the Computational Neuroengineering Laboratory at UF.

In awarding scholarships, the Foundation considers the nominee's field of study and career objectives and the extent to which the individual has the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to his or her field. Each scholarship covers eligible expenses for tuition, fees, books, and room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 annually. Students must receive a nomination from their institution in order to apply for the Goldwater scholarship.  Each application requires an essay discussing a significant issue or problem in their field of study that is of particular interest to them. 

In 2016, UF student Tiffany Paul (physics major) won a Goldwater Scholarship; in 2015, UF students Colin Defant (mathematics major) and Lauren McCarthy (chemistry major) also won Goldwater Scholarships. All recent UF Goldwater scholarship winners have been members of the UF Honors Program.

Campus Life

Behind the bands

March 21, 2017
Gabrielle Calise
Swamp Records, student organizations

Members of the student-run Swamp Records do everything the major labels do – no experience required.

Read the story here.

a band plays at an event

Campus Life

Got a Story Idea? We're interested in hearing about it.

Tell Us