University of Florida’s vision for community preeminence earns international award

September 1, 2017
UF News

Strategic Development Plan shapes UF and community’s future for next 50 years

A plan for the University of Florida to advance its quest for preeminence by blending spaces and resources with the city of Gainesville and neighborhoods surrounding campus received a top international award this summer.

UF’s Strategic Development Plan to create a national model for “town-and-gown” relationships — guided by Chief Operating Officer Charles Lane — earned the Society for College and University Planning’s 2017 “Excellence in Planning for an Existing Campus” award. The worldwide organization’s recognition is akin to winning an Oscar in the motion picture industry.

The plan reflects the university’s aspiration to be one of this century’s most influential and impactful institutions of higher learning. It outlines a bold, collaborative partnership with civic leaders, residents, the business community, Santa Fe College and other area groups to reimagine the design, function and possibilities of modern universities and their host cities. Topics addressed in the plan are workforce development, demographic shifts, entrepreneurship, health, food, housing, transit, technology, arts, schools, energy, ecology and water.

“What I love about this plan is how it addresses our community’s greatest challenges by drawing on its greatest strengths. From job opportunities to livability to education, culture and the arts, the plan encourages solutions that tap Gainesville’s unique intellectual and artistic resources, geography, natural amenities and the built environment,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “This is a remarkably innovative way to rethink the town-and-gown relationship.”

University and community leaders used a series of town hall-style gatherings and smaller group meetings over nine months in 2016 to develop the plan that will guide the evolution of the UF-Gainesville partnership over the next five decades. The result is “a new kind of partnership never previously attempted by a major university and its host city,” the plan’s architects said. The core of the plan is to create a stronger connection between UF’s 2,000-acre campus and downtown Gainesville.

Albert White, a retired administrator with Gainesville Regional Utilities, served on the plan’s steering committee.

“For years, the University of Florida has been a separate identity located within the city of Gainesville,” he said. “This is an opportunity to infuse neighborhoods with a long-term hope of a broad cultural, economic and social development.”

Renovating UF’s historic Plaza of the Americas to better serve both the campus and neighboring communities was one of the first steps in the plan’s implantation. UF has also designated more than $300,000 for community research awards, $50,000 to enrich neighborhoods through a partnership between the College of Arts and City Arts Initiative, and $50,000 for local environmental issues.

Blending UF and community resources will strengthen both the university and city to move UF closer to preeminence, Lane said.

“I hope that in 40 to 50 years’ time, people come back to this campus and say, ‘Wow, that planning effort really made a difference.’ Then, as they walk into the downtown area, say, ‘They [UF and the city] really connected the dots here,’” he said.

Campus Life

Explaining the Muslim pilgrimage of hajj

September 1, 2017
Ken Chitwood

A UF expert on Islamic studies explains the significance of the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

File 20170831 25608 184cppy
Muslims start the hajj by circling the Kaaba, the black, cube-shaped house of God. UmmSqueaky, CC BY-NC

Ken Chitwood, University of Florida

Around 1.7 million Muslims have gathered this year in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage – the hajj. The five-day pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all Muslims who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.

So, what is the hajj and what is its spiritual significance?

The fifth pillar

Millions of Muslims from diverse countries such as Indonesia, Russia, India, Cuba, Fiji, the United States, Nigeria and others congregate in Mecca during the last month of the Muslim lunar year.

Pilgrims dressed in white garments. Al Jazeera English, CC BY-NC

Pilgrims wear plain, white garments. Men drape seamless, unstitched clothing and women dress in plain white dresses and headscarves. The idea behind dressing simply is to mask any differences in wealth and status.

The pilgrimage is considered the fifth pillar of Islamic practice (the other four being the profession of faith, five daily prayers, charity and the fast of Ramadan). In calling Muslims to perform the hajj, the Quran says,

“Proclaim to men the pilgrimage: they will come to thee on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path.”

The rites of the hajj are believed to retrace events from the lives of prominent prophets such as Ibrahim and Ismail.

The first day of the hajj

Pilgrims start by circling the “Holy Kaaba,” the black, cube-shaped house of God (at the center of the most sacred mosque in Mecca), seven times.

The Kaaba occupies a central place in the lives of Muslims. In all parts of the world, Muslims are expected to turn toward the Kaaba when performing their daily prayers.

Specific rules concerning going around the Kaaba are prescribed for pilgrims. They may also kiss, touch or approach the Kaaba during the pilgrimage as a sign of their respect and continued devotion.

The Quran tells the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice, who when commanded by God, agreed to sacrifice his son, Ismail. Muslims believe the Kaaba holds the black stone upon which Ibrahim was called to sacrifice Ismail.

In performing the rituals, they join in a long line of pilgrims to Mecca – including Prophet Muhammad – who circled the Kaaba.

Pilgrims then proceed to a ritual walking – about 100 meters from the Kaaba – to hills known as “Safa” and “Marwah.” Here they re-create another significant event recorded in the Quran: when Ibrahim was granted a son by God through his Egyptian slave girl Hajar. After the birth of Ismail, God instructed Ibrahim to take Hajar and her newborn son out into the desert and leave them there. Ibrahim left them near the present-day location of the Kaaba. Ismail cried out with thirst and Hajar ran between two hills, looking for water until she turned to God for help.

God rewarded Hajar for her patience and sent his angel Jibreel to reveal a spring, which today is known as “Zamzam Well.” Pilgrims drink water from the sacred well and may take some home for blessings.

The second day of the hajj

Pilgrims praying on Arafat. Al Jazeera English, CC BY-SA

The hajj “climaxes” with a sojourn into the plains of Arafat near Mecca. There, pilgrims gather in tents, spend time with one another and perform prayers. Some pilgrims will ascend a hill known as the “Mount of Mercy,” where Prophet Muhammad delivered the farewell sermon toward the end of his life.

They then proceed to an open plain near Mecca, often a highlight of the journey for many pilgrims. Muslims believe that the spirit of God comes closer to Earth in this place at the time of the pilgrimage.

As a scholar of global Islam, during my fieldwork I have interviewed those who have gone on the hajj. They have described to me their personal experiences.

Many pilgrims, when standing in the plains of Arafat, feel a close communion with God.

Final three days

Afterwards, pilgrims move to Mina, also known as the Tent City, about five kilometers from the holy city of Mecca. Here, they reenact another part of the story of Ibrahim’s test of faith in the sacrifice of his son.

They recall how Satan tried to tempt Ibrahim to disobey God’s call to sacrifice Ismail. Ibrahim, however, remained unmoved and informed Ismail, who was willing to be sacrificed. To reenact Ibrahim’s rebuff of Satan’s temptation, pilgrims throw small stones at a stone pillar.

They then proceed to follow Ibrahim in the act of sacrifice. The Quran says just as Ibrahim attempted to kill his son, God intervened and a ram was sacrificed in place of Ismail. In remembrance, Muslims all over the world sacrifice an animal on this day. The “festival of the sacrifice” is known as Eid al-Adha.

Pilgrims stoning the devil in Mina. Al Jazeera English, CC BY-SA

Many pilgrims spend the next few days repeating the stoning at Mina (at least six more times) and going around the Holy Kaaba in Mecca (at least once more). Pilgrims also start to put on their everyday clothes to indicate a transition to their worldly life.

It is believed that a proper performance of the hajj can absolve Muslim pilgrims of any previous sins. However, Muslims also believe that just undertaking the pilgrimage is not enough: It is up to God to judge the pilgrimage as acceptable or not.

Creating one Muslim community

The hajj is a massive organizational project for the Saudi authorities. Issues concerning crowd management, security, traffic and tensions constantly plague the successful organization of the annual event. A deadly stampede in 2015 left over 700 dead.

There are other ongoing tensions as well: Some Shia governments such as Iran, for example, have leveled charges alleging discrimination by Sunni Saudi authorities. Furthermore, this year, citizens of Qatar were not able to perform the hajj following the decision by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations to severe diplomatic ties with the country.

To address such issues, many Muslims have called for the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an intergovernmental organization, to put together an international, multi-partisan committee to organize the pilgrimage.

Perhaps that could help avoid regional or sectarian conflicts. The hajj, after all, is any individual Muslim’s single most symbolic ritual act that reflects the ideal of unity.

The ConversationBy requiring Muslims to don the same clothes, pray in the same spaces and perform the same rituals, the hajj creates a global Muslim community, with no class distinctions.

Ken Chitwood, Ph.D. Candidate, Religion in the Americas, Global Islam, University of Florida

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

Society & Culture

UF hosts Anti-racism Education Week

September 7, 2017
Alisson Clark
Multicultural and Diversity Affairs

There’s a difference between not being racist and being anti-racist. That distinction kicked off the session "Our Collective Responsibility: What can we do to challenge racism on our campus and in our community?"

University of Florida students, staff and faculty gathered in the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs office in the Reitz Union Sept. 6 to explore ways to take an active role in fighting racism and bigotry on campus and beyond.  

The program was part of the University of Florida’s first Anti-racism Education Week, a series of programs promoting an inclusive campus environment.

students, faculty and staff in small group discussions

Sponsored by Students Taking Action Against Racism, Student Government and UF Hillel, the discussion encouraged attendees to share examples of bigotry they have experienced or witnessed on campus, as well as helping them to understand privilege and offering ideas on how to be an ally for those fighting discrimination.

After introducing the concept of anti-racism, Jack Nguyen, MCDA’s director of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs, and Billy Huff, MCDA’s director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Affairs, facilitated small-group discussions with about 20 attendees.

Santiago Gutierrez, a second-year student in international studies, came to the session to learn more about the issues faced by communities other than his own. He said the event helped him make those connections, and he hopes to see the conversation spread beyond the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs office.

“This is a good step, but it has to expand to groups of people who normally wouldn’t go to something like this,” he said. “We need to have these discussions where they will reach more people.”

Organized by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Anti-racism Education Week began Sept. 5 with an interactive panel discussion on self-care during times of crisis. It continues Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. with a lecture and discussion on the origins of totalitarianism by Paul Ortiz of UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, in Reitz Union room 2201.

A First Amendment conversation postponed due to the approach of Hurricane Irma has been rescheduled for Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. in the Reitz Union's Rion Ballroom. Featuring faculty from disciplines around campus, the event will address "the nuanced relationship between free speech and campus climate." 

The event will be livestreamed. Details at https://www.facebook.com/events/1470396359711113/.

The week’s events are supported by Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, and the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations in the Levin College of Law. UF Hillel, the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, STARR (Students Taking Action Against Racism), Student Government, GatorWell and the UF Counseling and Wellness Center.

Campus Life

University of Florida announces closures Sunday and Monday due to threat of Hurricane Irma

September 7, 2017
UF News
hurricane, closure, student safety

Due to the threat of Hurricane Irma, the University of Florida’s main campus in Gainesville will be closed on Sunday, Sept. 10 and Monday, Sept. 11. Only needed essential university personnel should report for work.

UF is currently scheduled to reopen and resume classes and normal operations on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The official site for university hurricane information is the UF home page.

Information on student services, including safety and dining will be announced later today and distributed to students. Depending on the hurricane’s projected impact, campus shelters may be opened for students, faculty and staff, and their family members.

UF Health clinical and core service personnel are asked to check with their supervisors as to whether they should report to work and provide support to the academic health center for emergency operations.

UF/IFAS personnel outside Gainesville should adhere to their county government guidelines on closing. Personnel in other UF programs outside of Gainesville should consult their supervisors.

P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School is also closed Monday, and is operating on the same schedule as Alachua County schools.

Notices of any scheduling changes can be found through a link on the UF home page or on the information line at 866-UF-FACTS or 866-833-2287.

As a reminder, students and employees in need of immediate assistance should dial 911. Students may also contact U Matter We Care at umatter@ufl.edu or by calling (352) 294-CARE (2273). Employees may call the Employee Assistance Program at (352) 392-5787.

Campus Life

University of Florida prepares for possible National Policy Institute speaking engagement Oct. 19

September 7, 2017
UF News

The University of Florida is evaluating a request from the National Policy Institute to schedule a speaking event on campus for its president, white supremacist Richard Spencer, and is now considering a possible date of Oct. 19.

UF remained firm in its decision to deny space for an event on Sept. 12. However, this group has made a request for a new date. As a public institution, UF is required by law to make a good faith effort to provide options for a reasonable date, time and campus venue, no matter how much we detest the points of views expressed.  As with any event, we also have a responsibility to assess safety and security risks, and will continue to do so until the event.

The university has set Thursday, Oct. 19 as the possible event date. We will now begin with the university’s regular protocols for evaluating the risks and associated costs. The university has been meeting daily for the past month with state, local and federal law enforcement agencies on a comprehensive campus and community security plan. The Oct. 19 date is not official until we are satisfied that we can avert safety risks, and that a formal facilities contract is signed and all appropriate rental and security costs have been paid.

UF deplores Spencer’s and the National Policy Institute’s rhetoric and views, which run counter to those of this institution. We also acknowledge that many of our students, faculty and staff are disproportionately impacted by their racism.

While this event is not in any way affiliated with the university, UF supports the constitutional right to free speech, and our role as a public university includes legal obligations to allow a wide range of viewpoints to be expressed by external groups – even when they are contrary to the core values of our university.

Campus Life

Parkinson’s disease: New drugs and treatments, but where are the doctors?

September 8, 2017
Michael Okun

Although physicians have a better understanding of this complex disease, a critical shortage in the number of doctors being trained to treat it could mean fewer patients will have access to the full range of treatment now available.

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Parkinson’s disease responds well to a range of treatments, but more specialists are needed to know how to best tailor treatment for patients. adriancfoto/Shutterstock.com

Michael Okun, University of Florida

For many, hearing the word “Parkinson’s” conjures an image of tremors. But Parkinson’s disease, brought about by loss of nerve and other brain cells, is actually an incredibly complex movement disorder that can cause symptoms as wide-ranging as smell loss, thinking issues, depression and swallowing problems. More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. have the illness, and millions more loved ones and caregivers are affected by it, too.

Thanks to medical advances and better treatments, both patients and physicians understand that Parkinson’s is a livable disease, and that people with this condition can be happy, healthy and successful.

And yet, there is a critical shortage of doctors trained specifically in how to treat Parkinson’s disease. Only 40 to 50 new Parkinson’s specialists – neurologists with fellowship training in the disease – go into practice each year across this country. And according to national doctor fellowship match data, this number has been relatively flat for the last five years. This shortage could worsen as the 70 million baby boomers age, as Parkinson’s typically afflicts older people; the average age of diagnosis is in the early 60’s.

Recently I wrote an article which provides an update on current treatments of Parkinson’s disease for the Journal of the American Medical Association. A key takeaway of my new article is that there are many treatments for Parkinson’s, and some patients are going to live for 10, 20, 30, even 40 years with the disease.

Also, as national medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation, I have come to realize that there is a gap between how physicians manage Parkinson’s in clinics nationwide and what we actually know from evidence and from experience in treating this disease for many years. In particular, many generalists remain unaware of treatments beyond the standard use of medications that have been used since the 1970s, and there is a lack of appreciation for the importance of the timing of medication dosages.

Updating approaches to Parkinson’s

We know from the scientific literature that patients who see even a general neurologist have lower rates of morbidity, mortality and nursing home placement. But given that the majority of Parkinson’s patients are under the care of general practitioners, internists and family medicine doctors, how do we help all of those who are affected by Parkinson’s?

Based on studies that show that people are living longer with Parkinson’s, one of the first messages we need to impart is that life is most certainly not over.

A second important message is that new medications can and do make a difference.

These findings underscore the necessity of having doctors trained in Parkinson’s.

Surgeons are vitally important, but doctors who specialize in Parkinson’s are becoming crucial as well. lenetstan/Shutterstock.com

For example, there is a myth that when you diagnose Parkinson’s, you prescribe a medicine called carbidopa-levodopa (also called Sinemet) three times a day, and that’s all.

But Parkinson’s is an incredibly complex disease with more than 20 motor and nonmotor features. The idea that dopamine, the main active ingredient in carbidopa-levodopa, is the only drug and the only treatment and there’s nothing more you can do – that’s a myth. This is something we must make sure to emphasize and educate doctors in training and those seeing these patients in practice.

Timing may not be everything, but it is important

In my JAMA article, I tried to lay a framework for the different phases a Parkinson’s patient may go through and the many types of treatments that are available today. We now know, for example, that in the early phase of Parkinson’s, specific exercises can be just as important, if not more important in some patients, than medications. Understanding the options and windows of opportunity can be the difference between success and failure.

Some medications for Parkinson’s disease need to be given at specific times each day. Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

We also now know that the timing of medications is critical and in many cases needs to be exactly aligned to particular hours of the day. In addition, some patients see benefits by changing drug dose, adjusting medication intervals and possibly the addition of one of many other drugs.

There are windows of opportunity for some patients where great benefit may result from surgical therapy. These include deep brain stimulation or the use of an externally worn pump that infuses a gel formation of a dopamine medication directly into the small intestine, which is a newer therapy approved by the FDA two years ago. But the physician must be aware of what those windows are, and who are the patients likely to experience benefit.

In other words, we must tailor the treatment to the patient.

What’s more, in Parkinson’s disease there is the possibility of an array of nonmovement-related symptoms, such as speech problems, hallucinations and depression. These nonmotor symptoms are commonly more disabling than the motor symptoms such as tremor or stiffness. Today, experts are involving social workers and counselors and also commonly using antidepressant and cognitive enhancers in their care.

As a field, we need to better understand that Parkinson’s patients have many choices of therapies and this is a compelling reason why special Parkinsons’ doctors are needed. When treated appropriately, we really can make this a livable condition. We need to educate more general practitioners and general neurologists on the basics of tailoring care for Parkinson’s disease, and we need to dedicate more money to training more Parkinson-specific neurologists.

The ConversationThere is more reason for hope for patients of Parkinson’s and their loved ones, and every Parkinson’s patient should have a tailored plan which will ensure success and a happy life. We need to make sure we have enough doctors specifically trained to meet the needs of a growing patient population.

Michael Okun, Professor of Neurology, University of Florida

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

Science & Wellness

UF's hurricane research team heads south

September 9, 2017
UF News

With Hurricane Irma approaching Florida, UF hurricane researchers headed south on Friday to meet the storm head on, measure wind speeds and use the data to help build safer houses.

University of Florida's Hurricane Research Team fills their reserve diesel tanks on the way to South Florida.

University of Florida hurricane researchers monitor storm conditions during Hurricane Irma and scout for locations to deploy data collection instrumentation.

More updates to come. 

Science & Wellness

Students race against Irma to protect citrus experiment

September 9, 2017
Brad Buck

Some University of Florida students headed right into the thick of the projected path of Hurricane Irma to collect citrus tree samples as part of an ongoing experiment on citrus greening.

As Hurricane Irma churns closer to Florida, the students are collecting samples from citrus trees to see if two chemicals they’re testing will help control greening, the disease that’s devastating the state’s multimillion dollar-a-year citrus industry.

On Wednesday, the students took samples from those trees before Irma makes landfall, and Thursday, they hit the road at 6 a.m. to do the same, said Claudio Gonzalez, a UF/IFAS associate professor of microbiology and cell science.

During the last two years, Gonzalez, has worked with his students to identify and test treatments that may prove promising against citrus greening. They are currently performing large-scale field trials in South Florida with two of the treatments.

The treated plants are in Lorida — which is in Highlands County — and in Fort Pierce, said Gonzalez.

“I’m super proud of the students working on this project,” Gonzalez said. “Our work in the field is not simple. During a round of treatment last week — trees need to be sprayed after sunset — one of them was bitten by a rattlesnake in the leg. Luckily, we provided them with the correct equipment, and the snake proof boots he was wearing saved him from catastrophe.”

“In spite of the recent snake incident, they are again in the field today collecting tissue samples,” he said. “We are fighting very hard from our side; together with the Florida growers we will do everything possible to save our citrus industry.”

Science & Wellness

UF first in Florida to crack U.S. News list of top 10 best public universities

September 13, 2017
Steve Orlando

The University of Florida has become the first Florida school to break into the list of top 10 best public universities, coming in at No. 9, according to the 2018 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings released today.

The 2018 list of top 10 best public universities now looks like this:

1 – University of California, Berkeley *
1 – University of California, Los Angeles *
3 – University of Virginia
4 - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
5 - University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
6 – College of William & Mary
7 – Georgia Institute of Technology
8 – University of California, Santa Barbara
9 – University of Florida *
9 – University of California, Irvine *
9 – University of California, San Diego *
* = tie

Now the state’s highest-ranked university, UF last year was ranked No. 14 among publics and No. 50 overall.

“This is a significant milestone that we can all be proud of, and it happened as the result of many years of focused work and a keen sense of purpose,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “Our faculty – the core of our academic reputation – and staff deserve tremendous credit for lifting us up to get us here, as do previous leaders, particularly Bernie Machen, and UF’s Board of Trustees. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott and the Board of Governors for their continued support to ensure that the nation’s third most-populous state has the world-class university it deserves.”

The U.S. News rankings are based on up to 15 key measures of quality that are used to capture the various dimensions of academic quality at each university. The measures fall into seven broad areas: undergraduate academic reputation; graduation and retention rates; faculty resources; student selectivity; financial resources; alumni giving; and graduation rate performance.

Factors that helped UF’s ranking improve this year include:

  • Undergraduate academic reputation – Created from an annual survey of college and university presidents, provosts and admissions officers as well as high school guidance counselors. Each individual is asked to rate peer schools' undergraduate academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). It counts for 22.5 percent of each school’s overall score. UF’s score in that category this year was 3.7, up from 3.6 last year.
  • Selectivity – A function of how many student applicants a school admits each year and students’ SAT and ACT scores and high school class standings. It accounts for 12.5 percent of the total; UF’s score was up seven points from 54 last year to 47 this year.
  • Graduation rate performance – A comparison between the actual six-year graduation rate for students entering in fall 2009 and the predicted graduation rate. The predicted graduation rate is based upon characteristics of the entering class, as well as characteristics of the institution. UF’s score rose four points this year over last year, in part because U.S. News this year began factoring in the percentage of STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) graduates into its calculation.

Fuchs extended congratulations to the other Florida schools that saw their U.S. News rankings improve this year: Florida State University, Florida A&M University, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida International University.

UF’s quest to become a top-10 public research institution officially began in 2013, when the Legislature passed, and Scott signed, a bill designating it a preeminent university and providing special funding to be used for helping it reach top status. Florida State University also received the preeminent designation.

UF has since used preeminence funding to hire more than 100 senior leading faculty from all over the world. Earlier this year, the university announced a plan to increase the faculty by an additional 500 members to continue to increase research excellence and reduce class sizes.

Many new UF researchers have cited the school’s exceptional breadth of disciplines and the numerous opportunities for collaboration that brings with it a reason for coming to work at the university. UF is one of only six universities in the country with colleges of law, medicine, engineering, agriculture and veterinary medicine on one campus.

Fuchs said UF alumni – half a million strong – and friends represent one of the strongest and most loyal communities in the world and should be especially proud. He also offered his thanks to university leaders around the country for their votes of confidence in UF.

“We have benefitted greatly from their wise advice and sage counsel,” he said.

While he welcomed the new ranking, Fuchs said the university’s work is far from done.

“Now is the time to double down,” he said. “We have the talent, the collective will and the means to keep moving up. We owe it to our students and the people of Florida to be the very best public research institution we can be.”

View UF's U.S. News rankings at https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/university-of-florida-1535.

Campus Life

Should power lines go underground?

September 13, 2017
Ted Kury

UF’s director of energy studies observes that installing power lines underground to prevent outages during hurricanes may not be the magic bullet many are seeking.

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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused widespread power outages. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Theodore J. Kury, University of Florida

It is the height of a highly destructive hurricane season in the United States. The devastation of Harvey in Texas and Louisiana caused nearly 300,000 customers to lose electricity service, and Hurricane Irma has cut service to millions of people. Soon, winter storms will bring wind and snow to much of the country.

Anxious people everywhere worry about the impact these storms might have on their safety, comfort and convenience. Will they disrupt my commute to work? My children’s ride to school? My electricity service?

When it comes to electricity, people turn their attention to the power lines overhead and wonder if their electricity service might be more secure if those lines were buried underground. But having studied this question for utilities and regulators, I can say the answer is not that straightforward. Burying power lines, also called undergrounding, is expensive, requires the involvement of many stakeholders and might not solve the problem at all.

Where should ratepayer money go?

Electric utilities do not provide service for free, as everyone who opens their utility bill every month can attest. All of the costs of providing service are ultimately paid by the utility’s customers, so it is critical that every dollar spent on that service provides good value for those customers. Utility regulators in every state have the responsibility to ensure that utilities provide safe and reliable service at just and reasonable rates.

But what are customers willing to pay for ensuring reliability and mitigating risk? That’s complicated. Consider consumer choices in automobile insurance. Some consumers choose maximum insurance coverage through a zero deductible. Others blanch at the higher premiums zero deductibles bring and choose a higher deductible at lower premium cost.

The damage from Hurricane Irma on the Florida Keys was extensive. Putting power lines underground will make electricity service more resilient to wind damage but also make flooding a bigger concern. AP Photo/David Goldman

To provide insurance for electricity service, regulators and utilities must aggregate the preferences of individual customers into a single standard for the grid. It’s a difficult task that requires a collaborative effort.

The state of Florida’s reaction in the wake of the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons provides a model for this type of cooperative effort. Utilities, regulators and government officials meet every year to address the efficacy of Florida’s storm hardening efforts and discuss how these efforts should evolve, including the selective undergrounding of power lines. This collaborative effort has resulted in the refinement of utility “vegetation management practices” – selective pruning of trees and bushes to avoid contact with power lines and transformers – in the state as well as a simulation model to assess the economic costs and benefits of undergrounding power lines.

Nationally, roughly 25 percent of new distribution and transmission lines are built underground, according to a 2012 industry study. Some European countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, have made significant commitments to undergrounding.

Burying power lines costs roughly US$1 million per mile, but the geography or population density of the service area can halve this cost or triple it. In the wake of a statewide ice storm in December 2002, the North Carolina Utilities Commission and the electric utilities explored the feasibility of burying the state’s distribution lines underground and concluded that the project would take 25 years to complete and increase electricity rates by 125 percent. The project was never begun, as the price increase was not seen as reasonable for consumers.

Construction at the Moody Air Force base in Georgia to put power lines underground in 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Schelli Jones, CC BY

A 2010 engineering study for the Public Service Commission on undergrounding a portion of the electricity system in the District of Columbia found that costs increased rapidly as utilities try to underground more of their service territory. The study concluded that a strategic $1.1 billion (in 2006 dollars) investment would improve the reliability for 65 percent of the customers in the utility’s service territory, but an additional $4.7 billion would be required to improve service for the remaining 35 percent of customers in outlying areas. So, over 80 percent of the costs for the project would be required to benefit a little more than one third of the customers. The Mayor’s Power Line Undergrounding Task Force ultimately recommended a $1 billion hardening project that would increase customer bills by 3.23 percent on average after seven years.

Shifting risk

In addition to the capital cost, undergrounding may make routine maintenance of the system more difficult, and thus more expensive, because of reduced accessibility to power lines. This may also make it more difficult to repair the system when outages do occur, prolonging the duration of each outage. Utility regulators and distribution utilities must weigh this cost against the costs of repairing and maintaining the electricity system in its overhead state.

Electricity service is valuable. A 2009 study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated an economic cost of $10.60 for an eight-hour interruption in electricity service to the average residential customer. For an average small commercial or industrial customer the cost grew to $5,195, and to almost $70,000 for an average medium to large commercial or industrial customer. The economic benefits of storm hardening, therefore, are significant.

Beyond the economic value of undergrounding, one could consider other benefits, such as aesthetic ones, which may be more difficult to quantify. But all costs and benefits must be considered to ensure value for the customer’s investment.

In terms of reliability, it is not correct to say that burying power lines protects them from storm damage. It simply shifts the risk of damage from one type of storm effect to another.

For example, it is true that undergrounding can mitigate damage from wind events such as flying debris, falling trees and limbs, and collected ice and snow. But alternatives, such as proper vegetation management practices, replacing wood poles with steel, concrete or composite ones, or reinforcing utility poles with guy wires, may be nearly as effective in mitigating storm damage and may cost less.

Also, undergrounding power lines may make them more susceptible to damage from corrosive storm surge and flooding from rainfall or melting ice and snow. Areas with greater vulnerability to storm surge and flooding will confront systems that are less reliable (and at greater cost) as a result of undergrounding.

The ConversationSo, the relocation of some power lines underground may provide a cost-effective strategy to mitigate the risk of damage to elements of a utility’s infrastructure. But these cases should be evaluated individually by the local distribution utility and its regulator. Otherwise consumers will end up spending more for their electricity service, and getting less.

Theodore J. Kury, Director of Energy Studies , University of Florida

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

Global Impact

Can random bits of DNA lead to safe, new antibiotics and herbicides?

September 15, 2017
Kevin Folta

The chair of UF’s horticultural sciences department explains how inserting a random DNA mishmash into a plant or bacterium directs it to make a novel protein, with implications for medicine and agriculture.

File 20170909 32271 qkj3sf
Plants make proteins based on whatever genetic material you give them. Carl Davies, CSIRO, CC BY

Kevin M. Folta, University of Florida

I was cutting my grass when the battery in my iPod died. Instead of enjoying the distraction of music, my brain switched to its usual nerd mode of thinking about molecules. Within a few passes of cut grass, I was pondering the biggest “Why not?” of my scientific career: Could we discover new drugs and useful agricultural compounds by challenging organisms with clusters of random chemistry?

My background is in molecular biology – the study of DNA, genes and how an organism’s blueprints are decoded and assembled into life. The discipline requires an understanding of how molecular codes are deciphered and turned into functional biology. Anyone in this field is plagued with dreams of dancing molecules, interacting and performing the roles that turn DNA information into our food, the plants in our environment and our families.

Every day in the lab we move genes around. It’s easy. Not meant to generate new products for consumers, moving DNA is used as a research tool that lets us understand how specific genes work. A classic example is the NPR1 gene from the model plant Arabidopsis; it’s a defense gene that confers enhanced tolerance to disease when you drop it into almost any plant’s genome. Manipulating genetic information – in plants, microbes and some animals – is commonplace.

On that half-cut lawn it occurred to me – instead of inserting DNA information we understand, what if we introduced a scrambled mess of random DNA code into a plant or bacterium? Could we identify random bits of genetic information that could give rise to small proteins (called peptides) that change an organism’s physiology or development?

In all living things, the ‘words’ in the genetic material code for particular amino acids, so the organism can build the proteins it needs. Boumphreyfr, CC BY-SA

Normally DNA encodes instructions that coordinate the order of the amino acid building blocks in a protein. Each amino acid has specific chemical characteristics. Strung together in a peptide chain, they fold into a protein that provides cellular structure or function, based on the complementary chemistries of its amino acid components.

My hypothesis was that a short, scrambled DNA message could give rise to a novel string of amino acids. This would be a small cluster of discrete chemistry that likely never existed before on the planet. The vast majority of the time it would be meaningless and just become cellular rubbish. But maybe on rare occasion it could do something new and desirable.

To test the hypothesis, our research team used randomized templates to synthesize trillions of random DNA fragments using simple DNA amplification techniques. Each was flanked by the genetic instructions to start and stop production of a peptide inside the plant.

Then we used standard genetic engineering techniques to insert a novel DNA sequence into thousands of individual Arabidopsis thaliana plants – and sat back to watch what would happen when the plants turned the random genetic information into little random peptides. We were hoping for cases where specific protein structures might find a connection with biological chemistry and we’d see the result in the plants themselves.

As the plants grew, we were blown away by what we observed.

In some cases, adding a random ‘gene’ had a big effect on how plants grew… or not. Kevin Folta, CC BY-ND

Some plants were flowering early. Others were small and stunted. Others grew larger leaves. Some were loaded with healthy purple pigments. Still others grew up to a point…then died.

We then retrieved the particular random DNA sequence we’d added to each, a simple feat for a molecular biologist, and inserted the same sequence into new plants. Most of the time the random information affected the new generation of plants in exactly the same way, demonstrating that something was indeed happening related to the added, garbled information. We recently published our results in the journal Plant Physiology.

What is this random information doing inside the cell? The small random molecules generated from the inserted DNA instructions could affect a specific process, just by chance. They could bind a needed nutrient. They might inhibit a key enzyme. They could turn on flowering or protect a plant from freezing. Nobody really knows exactly how until the plants are examined in detail one by one. These new proteins may also be good models to design new useful molecules with similar chemical properties, but that are more durable in the cell. Our goal is to produce a compound that may be applied to crops to change the way plants grow and behave, or perhaps stop the growth of invasive or weedy plants.

The process is like throwing monkey wrenches into a complicated machine. Most of the time they clank around and affect nothing; but once in a long while a wrench catches in some critical gears and brings the machine to a halt. Other times the wrench might short-circuit a wasteful process, allowing the machine to run more efficiently. These peptides are molecular monkey wrenches.

Small proteins created through this process might be the future of safe, sustainable and specific weed control. KegRiver, CC BY-NC-ND

Some of these peptides must interfere with an important biological process because they kill the plant. These findings bring to light new vulnerabilities in plants that researchers could exploit to develop environmentally friendly and nontoxic herbicides. Agriculture currently relies on a few relatively old chemistries, cultivation (using fossil fuels) or human labor to control the weeds that compete with food plants for resources. Good weed control means that valuable fertilizers, water and sunlight go only to the desired plants, rather than weeds. So new herbicide chemistries would be extremely valuable as farmers work to produce food for growing populations.

But why stop at plants? We are using the same approach to discover the next generation of antibiotics. The goal is to identify random information that affects a single species of problematic bacterium. For instance, we could potentially target S. aureus, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes MRSA. We are hunting for new molecules that could destroy MRSA-related bacteria while leaving the rest of the microbiome unaffected. These experiments are underway in our lab.

Randomness may pinpoint undiscovered vulnerabilities or opportunities in plants, bacteria and other organisms. There even may be applications in solving human disease. The future is exciting as we mine the vast collections of new molecules and study how they integrate with biology to produce important desired outcomes.

The ConversationSeveral of the molecules we’ve already identified slow plant growth. Future products from this technology might even be applied to make lawns grow more slowly. While others may find this advance helpful, I’ll have to skip using it. Cutting the grass gets my good ideas flowing.

Kevin M. Folta, Professor and Chair, Horticultural Sciences Department, Graduate Program in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Florida

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

Science & Wellness

In all kinds of weather: Thank you, Gator Nation, for contributing to the #GatorGood

September 18, 2017
Margot Winick
Hurricane Irma

When a Hurricane Irma, as a Category 1 storm, threatened to hit the Gainesville area, the University of Florida community geared up quickly to respond in ways great and small to prepare, support each other, cleanup, rebuild, and give back.

From sheltering 792 students, their families and other evacuees on campus, to volunteer efforts to clean up campus and donate items, to broadcasting vital weather information throughout the storm and its aftermath, here are some of the ways you all contributed to the Gator Good:

Jeff Huffman and Randy Wright of WUFT

On the air, around the clock – for 81 hours straight

The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN), hosted by the UF College of Journalism and Communications and based at WUFT-FM, kept listeners of the 13 public radio stations across the state of Florida informed before, during and after the storm. In total FPREN broadcast hurricane Irma information in every market in Florida including hard hit Miami and Ft. Myers/Naples for more than 81 hours from Friday through Monday. Staff and students worked around the clock to provide the latest information not only on the radio, but also on Facebook Live, the Florida Storms app and other social media platforms. They include meteorologists Jeff Huffman, Cyndee O’Quinn, Harrison Hove and host Randy Wright, executive director of the Division of Media Properties at the UF College of Journalism and Communications. The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network is the brainchild of Randy Wright, who won an Innovator Award for Public Media Advancement in 2015 from the University Station Alliance.

Resources, tips and more in every Florida county

UF/IFAS provided a full range of information on a blog and via the news media, covering the impact on agriculture and citrus, and what to do with storm-damaged trees.

At extension offices such as the UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center, wildlife scientists had to secure vehicles, trap cages, air boats, house boats and trailers to prevent damage. Aquatic weeds scientists and horticultural scientists had to prepare greenhouses and glasshouses, tie down potted plants, check tanks and remove potential flying debris. Entomologists secured Africanized honey bee hives in a protected bee yard and termite cultures in their labs.

Estimates of damage to IFAS property and research statewide have yet to be finalized.


Making sure butterflies don’t fly away

“While millions of Florida residents evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma this weekend, many others stayed behind to make sure that some of the state’s most delicate animals stayed safe,” read the top paragraph of a story in BuzzFeed about employees at the Florida Museum of Natural History “carefully capturing” the winged wonders in the Butterfly Rainforest. 

The story was ranked as No. 12 in the “Just 15 Heartwarming Moments from Irma that Will Remind You of the Good in Everyone.”


Shelters, showers, selflessness — and alligator balloons

UF administration opened two on-campus shelters for students and their families at Steinbrenner Band Hall, and when it reached its capacity of 205, to the Southwest Recreation Center. Overall, UF provided shelter for 792 members of the UF community and general public. Southwest Rec, the Reitz Union, and Housing have all provided space for UF staff and faculty to have a place to shower if they are in need due to outages at home.

Rhonda Black, departmental secretary in the department of Geography at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for 16 years, volunteered to work at the shelter in Steinbrenner Hall. She sent her dean David Richardson a note: Wanted to give you some good news. As a volunteer at the Steinbrener campus shelter since 7 am Sunday morning, I can say first hand that the over 200 students, faculty, retired faculty, staff and families were well taken care of and often remarked at how pleasant the workers were and what a positive experience they had under these potentially dire conditions. 

There were no incidences (not even a stubbed toe) and we never lost power. All the persons who came to the shelter were all accounted for and left happy and appreciative this afternoon. Many had experienced hurricane and shelter situations before and said this was by far the most pleasant and well organized group of staff (EMTs, nurses, volunteers, mental health professionals, etc.). The staff from classic fare Catering was prompt, on point and in very positive spirits for all of the meal deliveries. As many of the people left the shelter they asked if we could do this again sometime as a reunion!”

Black, who has assisted for the Crisis Center and the American Red Cross, knew to bring her balloon animal kit to the shelter to calm the younger evacuees. It was some of the adults, however, that were feeling anxious, so she enlisted the children’s help to design alligator balloons with facial expressions and give them names like John the Brave. “After a 5-year-old hands you their balloon animal and says everything will be alright, it is not hard to relax,” she said.

alligator balloon animal

A lift from the Gator in Chief

Freshmen roommates Victoria Lehoczky and Stamatina Copulos found no buses running, so they decided to walk the two and a half miles from their dorm in Thomas Hall to SW Rec shelter. While on foot and walking in the rain with their suitcase and pillows, they were stopped by President Kent Fuchs, who asked if they wanted a ride to the shelter. “It was so surprising, and it was nice to know that the president of the university was spending his time helping students get to safety,” Copulos told the Independent Florida Alligator.

Two acts of selflessness

After a woman who was 8 months pregnant was involved in an accident on I-75, she was treated and released from the Shands Hospital and transported to the Southwest Recreation Center. Ultimately, according to University Relations AVP Janine Sikes, who rode out the storm on the job in the campus Emergency Operations Center, our Housing staff provided her with bedding and supplies and she and her husband were given accommodations in one of the available rooms in Tanglewood Village. No baby was delivered during her stay, but the expectant mother was in good health when she departed.

“Additionally, we received word that about 190 students, mostly international students, had been asked to leave their apartment complex during the storm. Most did not have vehicles and the city’s bus service had stopped running. The UF Police Department coordinated with the city of Gainesville to arrange RTS buses to drive them to the shelter and then home again once the storm was over,” added Sikes, who was responsible for sending out 13 UF Alerts before, during and after the storm to keep the Gator community informed.


“Providing health care during a critical situation”

UF Health overnight staff

More than 1,500 health care team members from UF Health hospitals and the UF colleges of medicine in Gainesville and Jacksonville responded with precision, composure and determination to ensure patients received needed care and emergency rooms remained open.

“Hurricane Irma tested of our abilities to continue providing health care during a critical situation,” said Michael L. Good, MD, dean of the UF College of Medicine. “Everyone came together as a most impressive team and rose to Irma’s many challenges. We are extremely proud of our faculty, residents, nurses, health care professionals and support staff who took time away from their families to care for our patients and their families through the duration of this storm.” To read more about UF Health activities during the storm, visit http://news.drgator.ufl.edu/2017/09/13/uf-health-teams-help-hundreds-of-patients-weather-hurricane-irma/

Helping students and families in need

The Office of Student Financial Affairs has been reaching out to all students who may have financial issues related to the storm in order to offer emergency financial assistance. More than 40 students have reached out for help. If you are in need, visit Criser Hall, Room S107.

Student Affairs administration kept parents and family members updated through the Gator Parent and Family Association, and also modified Fall Family Weekend in order to minimize costs. By waiving all registration fees for the Blue Fall Family Weekend Packages for those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, costs are being donated to the Gator Parent and Family Association Fund, which assists students in a variety of ways, including crisis recovery.

Gator aid for faculty and staff, and a way to donate to those in need

Human Resource Services is stepping up to help faculty and staff experiencing a temporary financial hardship due to the storm through “Aid-a-Gator” emergency funding. This money is intended to be a grant, not a loan, to help our faculty and staff who have been hardest hit by the storm and its aftermath. 

From HR: “While the SEC is providing the University with some limited seed money for this program, many faculty and staff, who were more fortunate during the storm are looking for ways to help their colleagues and the campus community. Faculty and staff are encouraged to make donations to this program, so as many employees as possible can receive assistance.

The sense of duty to help our colleagues during this time of crisis is part of who we are. By making a donation, even a small one, this program can help even more members of the Gator Nation who are in need of assistance. Please click here to donate now.” 

Other ways to volunteer: Gators Volunteer, Volunteer Florida, and by getting involved in or donating food to the Field and Fork Pantry.

Campus cleanup and outreach by students

The David and Wanda Brown Center for Leadership and Service and Facility Services brought the #GatorGood spirit to campus by hosting a volunteer campus clean-up from Hurricane Irma. Over three days, 200 students volunteered to remove fallen branches and debris.

At the Levin College of Law, several student organizations planned events to raise money for hurricane relief, including the UF Law Latino Law Student Association, hosted a Brazilian Boot Camp for a Cause on Saturday, with donations for the American Red Cross efforts in the Caribbean islands. Aid drives on campus and at local retailers are in the works.


UAA efforts for outreach, thanking responders

At the football game Saturday versus Tennessee, the Florida team wore a special helmet decal to honor those affected by the storm, and all those who responded and volunteered their time to help evacuees and victims. Hundreds of UF student-athletes’ families and friends were directly affected by Hurricane Irma. 

Getting our fans in the game

UF and UAA teamed up to ask everyone who is able to make donations to help victims of Hurricane Irma to do so to the “One America Appeal” fund, which includes the Florida Disaster Fund. It is the state’s official, private fund established to assist local communities.  The Florida-Student Athlete Advisory Committee organized a donation drive for fans attending the soccer match and volleyball matches. They collected clothing items, non-perishable food items, toiletries and blankets for donation.

Thanking our city responders

Athletic Director Scott Stricklin and other coaches and officials teamed up with the City of Gainesville to host a breakfast for responders who have worked tirelessly in the aftermath of the storm.

Albert with first responders

Photographer: Courtney Mims

Contributing research and faculty expertise

Wertheim College of Engineering professor Forrest Masters used the storm as an opportunity to do research on how to minimize damage to buildings by measuring wind speeds. Masters mobilized The Hurricane Research Team of engineers, and even reached out to University Communications to invite photographers Bernard Brzezinski and Lyon Duong to join his team to film the convoy of researchers who went to collect data at four sites as the storm made landfall. They shared this video showing the team's work: 

While out in the (wind) field, Masters was also interviewed live on The Weather Channel about the team’s research.

Forrest Masters talks to the Weather Channel

Many other members of the faculty provided their expertise to national media, including:

Ted Kury, director of energy studies for the Public Utility Research Center at UF, in the Washington Post about putting power lines underground: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/09/12/florida-struggles-with-top-job-in-irmas-wake-restoring-power-to-millions/

Associate professor of geography Corene Matyas, who studies hurricane frequency, comments on the statistical likelihood of the U.S. being hit by a hurricane at the climatological peak of this year’s hurricane season in the Dayton Daily News: http://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/epic-storms-put-nation-response-teams-test/

Meggen Sixbey, associate director and clinical associate professor of UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center, talked to the New York Times about the high anxiety levels this storm produced: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/us/florida-stress-storm-aftermath.html

Keeping evacuees healthy in Miami shelters

bags of dental supplies

Staff and faculty at the UF Hialeah Dental Center in Miami staff prepared for the storm by placing equipment in storage on Sept. 7. On Sept. 13, their equipment was returned and the group collaborated to clean up the facility in and outside. The clinic is already seeing patients, has resumed a full schedule. When the Department of Health asked the clinic to donate some hygiene items to special needs and elderly individuals displaced by the storm in Monroe County who had evacuated to shelters at Florida International University, the faculty and staff again jumped into action, assembled the bags, and went to a family shelter with children’s items.

40 trees down on campus, including an icon

Fortunately, the UF Gainesville campus never lost power and no buildings sustained structural damage, but the campus natural beauty was impacted, with an estimated 40 trees down.

One of the trees lost was a campus landmark, the beloved centuries-old live oak tree in front of the new physics building. When the physics department built the building in 1998, they planned to remove the tree and build closer to the road. However, there were some protests which resulted in the building being designed around the tree, according to Pam Marlin, academic assistant at the department of physics. “By preserving the tree, the life was extended nearly 20 more years. The tree had metal support around it, which of course snapped when the tree fell. The first section of the tree fell around 1 a.m., and the rest fell around 4 a.m. on Monday morning,” she said, adding that one student used the following to describe the tree sound when it fell at 4 a.m., “I heard the sound of ripping roots and stretching wood.”

A Facebook virtual event page was created by third-year sociology student Livia Ledbetter to “Mourn the UF Physics Building Tree” https://www.facebook.com/events/2040353722851186/

“I first saw what happened to the tree on Snapchat, and it kind of broke my heart,” said Ledbetter, who added that she never had class in the Physics building, but as a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar, has attended events there. “I pass by the area [at different hours of the day] and the sight of it made me feel peaceful and happy. I just love the breathtaking nature on campus.” She was moved to create an online space for people to find out about the tree and “mourn it collectively,” and has been surprised by how many alumni reacted to the event and shared their own photos and memories of the tree on Facebook. Over 2,000 people liked or were interested in her Facebook post.

split tree

Help for helpless animals

Before, during and after Irma, the UF Veterinary Hospital provided continual emergency services to pets, horses and wildlife, and served as a valuable community resource in light of closures of nearly every other veterinary specialty and emergency hospital in the state.

The UF Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service, at the request of Alachua County officials, traveled to and picked up 100 dog crates in Bushnell and delivered them to Alachua County Animal Services’ operations to support pet-friendly shelters in the area. In addition, the UF VETS team is investigating complaints of abandoned horses in Ocala, and is assessing the situation in Key Largo.

Here in Alachua County, the UF Shelter Medicine Team has helped support Alachua Humane Society’s efforts to move animals out of shelters in harm’s way. The shelter medicine team and associated volunteers have also redistributed vaccines and flea and tick preventive medication for 800 animals to the ACHS and have assisted in arranging relocation transports to Chicago, Atlanta and South Carolina. At the request of Florida’s State Animal Response Coalition, UF has worked through difficult communications networks to contact each of Florida’s 155 animal shelters to assure that they are connected with their county’s emergency operations centers and are getting the help that they need.

Campus Life

Hanging out with a NatGeo Explorer

September 19, 2017
Alisson Clark
Florida Museum, biology, students

UF offering access to emergency funds for students, faculty, staff

September 20, 2017
UF News
hurricane, assistance, financial relief

The University of Florida is offering help to students, faculty and staff needing financial relief due to the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Students in need of assistance can visit this link for more details on how to apply for aid: http://www.sfa.ufl.edu/aidagator/

Faculty and staff (including TEAMS, OPS or USPS employees, and graduate assistants) should visit this link for details on how to apply for aid: http://hr.ufl.edu/aidagator/


Employees who are able to make a donation to help these colleagues, please visit this link: https://www.uff.ufl.edu/OnlineGiving/FundDetail.asp?FundCode=022419&AppealCode=GZAERA14

To make a donation of your time, or of food items, to the Field and Fork Pantry at UF, please visit http://fieldandfork.ufl.edu/

Campus Life

Unique gene therapy prevents, reverses multiple sclerosis in animal model

September 21, 2017
Doug Bennett

Multiple sclerosis can be inhibited or reversed using a novel gene therapy technique that stops the disease’s immune response in mouse models, University of Florida Health researchers have found.

By combining a brain-protein gene and an existing medication, the researchers were able to prevent the mouse version of multiple sclerosis. Likewise, the treatments produced near-complete remission in the animal models. The findings, which researchers said have significant potential for treating multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders, are published today (Sept. 21) in the journal Molecular Therapy.

Multiple sclerosis affects about 2.3 million people worldwide and is the most common neurological disease in young adults. The incurable disorder starts when the immune system attacks the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers, making them misfire and leading to problems with muscle weakness, vision, speech and muscle coordination.

The researchers used a harmless virus, known as an adeno-associated virus, to deliver a gene responsible for a brain protein into the livers of the mouse models. The virus sparked production of so-called regulatory T cells, which suppress the immune system attack that defines multiple sclerosis. The gene was targeted to the liver because it has the ability to induce immune tolerance.

“Using a clinically tested gene therapy platform, we are able to induce very specific regulatory cells that target the self-reactive cells that are responsible for causing multiple sclerosis,” said Brad E. Hoffman, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics and neuroscience at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The protein, myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein, was found to be effective in preventing and reversing muscular dystrophy on its own. A group of five mouse models that received the gene therapy did not develop experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, which is the mouse equivalent of multiple sclerosis in humans. In another experiment, all but one mouse model showed a significant reversal of the disease eight days after a single gene therapy treatment.

Hoffman said he was also encouraged by the treatment’s longevity. After seven months, the mouse models that were treated with gene therapy showed no signs of disease, compared with a group of untreated mouse models that had neurological problems after 14 days.

When the protein was combined with rapamycin — a drug used to coat heart stents and prevent organ transplant rejection — its effectiveness was further improved, the researchers found. The drug was chosen because it allows helpful regulatory T-cells to proliferate while blocking undesirable effector T-cells, Hoffman said.

Among the mouse models that were given rapamycin and the gene therapy, 71 percent and 80 percent went into near-complete remission after having hind-limb paralysis. That, Hoffman said, shows the combination can be especially effective at stopping rapidly progressing paralysis.

While researchers have established how gene therapy stimulates regulatory T cells in the liver, Hoffman said little else is known about the detailed mechanics of how that process works.

Before the therapy can be tested in humans during a clinical trial, further research involving other preclinical models will be needed, Hoffman said. Researchers also need to target the full suite of proteins that are implicated in multiple sclerosis, he added.

Still, Hoffman said he is extremely optimistic that the gene therapy can be effective in humans.

“If we can provide long-term remission for people and a long-term quality of life, that is a very promising outcome,” he said.

The research was funded by grants from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Institutes of Health and the Children’s Miracle Network.

Science & Wellness

Former UF provost Betty Capaldi Phillips dies

September 25, 2017
Steve Orlando

Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips, a psychology professor and former provost at the University of Florida, died Saturday at her home after an extended illness. She was 72.

Phillips served as UF provost from 1996 to 1999, during the presidency of John Lombardi. More recently, she served as director of UF Online in 2014. She also was provost and executive vice president of Arizona State University from 2006 to 2013.

"No one who had the opportunity to work with Betty was left unchanged by her remarkable intelligence, her exceptional commitment to the university's many missions, her charm and humor, and above all, by her drive and effectiveness, which required us all to do much more than we imagined possible," Lombardi said Monday.

David Colburn, director of UF’s Bob Graham Center for Governmental Responsibility and UF provost from 1999 to 2005, recalled Phillips as “a very talented scholar and administrator. She also had a deep concern for students and their well-being and a wonderful sense of humor.”

As UF provost, Philips was instrumental with Lombardi in the creation in 2000 of The Center for Measuring University Performance, a research enterprise focused on the competitive national context for major research universities.

In 2012, she married Win Phillips, UF’s executive chief of staff.

Born and raised in New York City, Elizabeth Phillips received her B.A. in psychology from the University of Rochester in 1965, and her doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Texas in 1969. She was on the faculty at Purdue University (1969-1988), as assistant professor (1969), associate professor (1974) and full professor (1979).

Her first administrative appointment was assistant dean of the Graduate School (1982-1986) at Purdue. In 1983, she became head of the department of psychological sciences until leaving for UF in 1988.

Phillips’ research focused on why we like the foods we like, or more generally, with how motivation can be learned.

Phillips was the president of the Association for Psychological Science from 1999-2000, and a fellow in that organization, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Midwestern Psychological Association.

After transitioning out of the provost office in 2013, Phillips went back to teaching and research in psychology and hosted a TV cooking show on Arizona PBS called “Eating Psychology with Betty,” which explored how biological, social and learned behaviors can affect how we interact with food.

Campus Life

Wildlife in the libraries

September 25, 2017
Alisson Clark
conservation biology, gorillas, libraries, biodiversity

Famed gorilla researcher Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda 50 years ago this week. For years, wildlife photographer Bob Campbell documented Fossey and the mountain gorillas she studied, introducing her to the world in the pages of National Geographic magazine. Now Campbell’s archives are part of the University of Florida Smathers Libraries' Wildlife Conservation collection. His photos and belongings are featured in an exhibit on the first floor lobby of Smathers Library East and online at http://exhibits.uflib.ufl.edu/BobCampbell.

Campus Life

How the anal cancer epidemic in gay and bi HIV-positive men can be prevented

September 27, 2017
Ashish A. Deshmukh

A professor at UF’s department of health services research, management and policy discusses his findings that age-specific anal precancer management can potentially lead to an 80 percent decrease in lifetime risk of anal cancer mortality among gay and bisexual men.

File 20170925 17379 lr0fcf
Singers from the New York City Gay Men’s Choir sing Dec. 1, 2015 at the Apollo Theater in New York for World AIDS Day. A new health foe has emerged among gay and bisexual men. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Ashish A. Deshmukh, University of Florida; Elizabeth Chiao, Baylor College of Medicine ; Jagpreet Chhatwal, Harvard Medical School , and Scott B. Cantor, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Almost 620,000 gay and bisexual men in the United States were living with HIV in 2014, and 100,000 of these men were not even aware of their infection. These men are 100 times more likely to have anal cancer than HIV-negative men who exclusively have sex with women. Yet, no national screening guidelines exist for anal cancer prevention in any population.

Anal cancer is predominantly caused by chronic or persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV infection can lead to the development of anal precancer which, if remains undetected or not adequately treated, may lead to anal cancer. Likewise, HPV infection is also responsible for causing cervical, vaginal, vulvar, oropharyngeal, penile and rectal cancers.

The objective of screening is to identify and treat these precancers to prevent occurrence of anal cancer. However, one of the reasons for the lack of screening guidelines is that anal precancer treatment has not yet been shown to prevent invasive cancer. Our study, published today in the journal Cancer, attempts to find a possible solution to prevent anal cancer in HIV-positive gay and bisexual men, using the best available data. We found that age-specific anal precancer management, including post-treatment HPV vaccination, can potentially lead to an 80 percent decrease in lifetime risk of anal cancer and anal cancer mortality among gay and bisexual men.

Anal cancer: the next big crisis

Some in the medical community have identified anal cancer as the next big crisis among HIV-infected gay and bisexual men. Initiation of anti-retroviral therapy in the 1990s greatly reduced the AIDS-related death rate and improved survival. However, this improvement in survival led to an increase in the lifetime risk of developing anal cancer, especially among HIV-positive gay and bisexual men.

Anal cancer is typically preceded by persistent HPV infection that often leads to precancer. HPV is common among U.S. men; about one out of two men in the general population has HPV infection. HPV typically clears naturally; however, under certain circumstances, it might persist longer and might progress to anal precancer. If it remains undetected, untreated or inadequately treated, this precancer can progress to anal cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 8,200 new anal cancer cases in 2017. In the absence of national screening recommendations, more than 50 percent of these individuals will be diagnosed at stage III or IV, when five-year survival is less than 40 percent. This creates a major public health concern.

We do not yet know how best to manage anal precancer (also known as high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions) so that anal cancer could be prevented. A national randomized clinical trial study – Anal Cancer HSIL Outcomes Research (ANCHOR) – is currently determining optimal anal precancer management by comparing treatment and active monitoring.

The question then arises: How do we start managing our patients using the best available evidence? Likewise, it is imperative that these individuals have as much information as possible about anal cancer prevention.

How our study brings insight

Using a mathematical model, we simulated the life course of 100,000 hypothetical HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM) who were 27 years or older and were diagnosed with high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. In our model, we compared four different management strategies: (1) individuals were not provided any form of treatment, which is the current practice; (2) individuals were actively monitored (followed biannually) and those who developed early cancer were treated; (3) individuals were immediately treated using surgery (current most popular strategy among clinicians who treat precancer); and (4) individuals in addition to surgical treatment received HPV vaccination (potential strategy).

We followed these hypothetical patients over their lifetime in our computer model to estimate harms and benefits of the management strategies. We tracked the number of individuals who developed anal cancer and then estimated their risk of death from anal cancer. We then estimated above outcomes by patient age. For each strategy, we estimated age-specific lifetime outcomes considering cost, quality of life and life expectancy.

We found that HIV-infected gay and bisexual men who are 38 years or older should be treated using surgical treatment of ablation (either infrared coagulation or electrocautery), and that HPV vaccination should be administered at the time of surgery. This strategy is cost-effective and has the potential to decrease the lifetime risk of anal cancer by up to 80 percent in those men.

The model also found that because younger men are more likely to be cured of their precancer without intervention, patients younger than 29 should not be treated and those between 29 and 38 years old should be actively monitored (watch-and-wait approach) in order to prevent treatment-related inconvenience and morbidity that might affect their quality of life.

How the HPV vaccine could help

Currently, HPV vaccination is not recommended for administration among individuals 27 years or older. However, multiple observational studies have shown, and our findings have confirmed, that a practice of vaccinating individuals who have already been diagnosed with precancer may decrease the risk of the precancer coming back after treatment.

The ConversationGiven that the HPV vaccine has minimal side effects, we believe that clinicians can consider adopting this practice. Such practice may have many advantages, such as decreasing the number of treatments a patient needs for precancer recurrence thus decreasing the adverse outcomes of surgical treatment (possibility of scarring, anal stenosis and incontinence). In the long run, post-treatment HPV vaccination also has the potential to decrease the lifetime risk of anal cancer, save health care costs for treating patients for recurrence and cancer, and improve their life expectancy and quality of life.

Ashish A. Deshmukh, Assistant Professor, University of Florida; Elizabeth Chiao, Associate professor, Baylor College of Medicine ; Jagpreet Chhatwal, Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School , and Scott B. Cantor, Professor, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

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

Science & Wellness

Beyond bleach: mold a long-term problem after flooding and disasters

September 28, 2017
Katherine Allen

A UF county extension director shares 20 years of experience in dealing with the long- and short-term health effects from exposure to mold following natural disasters.

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Florentina Amaya of Houston looks at mold damage to her home, Sept. 5, 2017. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Katherine Allen, University of Florida

One of the biggest issues surrounding flooding after natural disasters is mold, a problem that can stay with a structure long after floodwaters have receded. Considering that over 17 percent of homes already have some physical condition that contributes to leaks and that mold grows in temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 100°F, there is no wonder that we see mold and mildew problems after a disaster that brings flooding in homes and buildings.

Molds are fungi. Dampness supports mold and can create an unhealthy living space for people. When present in large quantities, all molds are allergenic and potentially harmful. Mold was implicated in the deaths of four Southern University at New Orleans professors after Hurricane Katrina, and mold remained a persistent problem in thousands of homes even after cleanup.

I have been an extension agent, or someone who shares the university’s consumer and agricultural research advances directly with the public, working with indoor environmental quality issues for over 20 years. From my work, I know that the health effects from exposure to mold can be short-term or long-term. But there’s a lot people can do to reduce or avoid potential problems.

Fast action essential

Always consider safety first when going back into a flooded home. Check for structural stability. If damage was severe, you may need to call a specialist to inspect your home to ensure it is safe to enter.

For areas that are less than 10 square feet, the National Center for Healthy Housing recommends that homeowners or renters clean it up themselves. For larger areas, consider using a professional. Hire a mold inspection or remediation professional affiliated with or certified by the National Environmental Health Association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association , the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification or the American Council for Accredited Certification to inspect, repair and restore the damaged parts of your home.

If you do the work yourself, keep children away while work is being done. For bigger jobs or for more protection, use a P100, which blocks 99.9 percent of all particulates, or a P95 respirator. Wear eye protection that does not have open vent holes. Use gloves that are nonlatex, vinyl, nitrile or rubber and coveralls to protect clothing.

Change into “work” clothes before entering the work area and remove when leaving.

You may need to contain the area to prevent the spread of the spores. (Check out HUD’s Rebuild Healthy Homes publication for more great information, including on how to create a containment area.)

Identify the extent of the damage, what you can do to stop it from continuing to get in and how to protect people in the space.

A meter for measuring moisture content can be helpful. Andrey_Popov/www.shutterstock.com

A moisture meter can be useful in determining how wet a material is, as well as identifying the source. Something that looks dry may have hidden moisture. Wood moisture content should be less than 16 percent.

Dry the wet areas – completely – as quickly as you can after the event. The water content is the most critical factor in determining if fungi can germinate and grow on a surface. Mold grows on almost any material that stays wet more than about two days. The longer the mold and wetness remain, the faster it spreads. And it is a survivor. It can grow even in dry spaces with humidity levels between 25 percent and 70 percent.

If you have mud and silt, shovel it out before it dries. Open doors, cabinets and drawers and use air-conditioning, heaters, fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture. But if mold has started to grow, do not use fans, as they can spread the mold spores.

To bleach, or not to bleach?

Supplies for removing mold include a hard brush and cleaning solution, but not necessarily bleach. Burdun Iliya/www.shutterstock.com

Many people want to reach for bleach when they first see mold. While bleach can be effective in killing mold on nonporous surfaces such as tile and porcelain, it does not work on wood and other porous material, such as drywall. On those surfaces, bleach can actually encourage more mold growth. Bleach does not prevent the regrowth of new colonies when materials stay damp.

If you do use bleach on bathroom and other nonporous surfaces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that you use no more than one cup of household bleach to one gallon of water. Make sure you open windows and ventilate your work space.

Also, do not use bleach on air conditioning systems, as bleach is corrosive. Do not use on fine wood furnishings, as it can raise the grain.

And never mix bleach with ammonia; that can cause toxic fumes.

Sometimes, letting go can be best

Discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected. Remove carpeting, padding, draperies, upholstered furniture, pillows, stuffed animals and mattresses, as they absorb water quickly and dry slowly.

Ceiling tiles that are wet lose their insulative properties and need to be replaced. If you are removing building materials, like flooring or popcorn ceilings, trim or siding, be aware that in older homes they may have lead paint and asbestos.

Cleaning mold means we must remove it, not just kill it. Dead spores can still cause health problems. Wipe or vacuum the area. If using a vacuum, consider using one that has a High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance filter. Professionals use commercial certified HEPA filter vacuums. Then, use a nonphosphate cleaning solution and hot water. Use cloths, stiff brushes and, if needed, mist-spray bottles. Do not use high-pressure sprayers, as this could dislodge and spread mold spores.

And finally, keep an eye out for new growth or continued dampness. Remember, mold can form in as little as two to three days. Check the outside grade to make sure you have good drainage of rainwater away from your house. Make sure you are using indoor humidity controls like bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans vented to the outside to help prevent added moisture.

If you see new mold, repeat cleaning and drying procedures. In some cases, it may mean that extended removal of building materials may be needed.

The ConversationKeep in mind that damage to your home may cause you to have an emotional reaction. This is normal. Refocus your attention on positive things and what you can do. You can safely repair and rebuild your home after water damage.

Katherine Allen, County Extension Director and Family and Consumer Sciences Agent IV, University of Florida

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

Science & Wellness

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