UF plant biologist Pam Soltis receives SURA’s Distinguished Scientist Award

March 7, 2018
Natalie van Hoose

University of Florida plant biologist Pam Soltis will receive the Southeastern Universities Research Association’s 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award, given annually to a scientist whose extraordinary work fulfills the association’s mission to “advance collaborative research and strengthen the scientific capabilities of its members and the nation.”

Pam Soltis

Soltis, a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF, will be presented with the award and its $5,000 honorarium at the SURA Board of Trustees meeting at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, on April 26.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Soltis studies plant diversity, with emphasis on the origin and evolution of flowering plants, plant genome evolution and conservation genetics. She uses genomic methods, natural history collections and computational modeling to understand patterns and processes of plant evolution and identify conservation priorities.

To help increase the public’s understanding of biodiversity, she joined an interdisciplinary team to create multimedia art pieces and an animated film that use the “Tree of Life” as a metaphor for how all living things are related to one another.

In nominating Soltis for the award, UF Vice President for Research David P. Norton wrote that her work in genetics and genomics was not only groundbreaking for plant scientists but for all scientists who want to understand the genetic relationships between populations and species.

“Dr. Soltis’ research has dramatically changed our understanding of the natural world,” Norton said. “Her work uncovers new relationships in the Tree of Life, illuminates fundamental aspects of plant biology, points to areas of greatest conservation concern and continually pushes the boundaries of what is possible in bioinformatics. In addition to being a world-class researcher, Dr. Soltis also shows a tremendous commitment to training and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engaging the minds and imagination of the public. UF is very fortunate to have such a leader.”

SURA Board of Trustees Chair Kelvin Droegemeier, who is also vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma, said, “Dr. Soltis is the kind of researcher every university hopes to have on its faculty. She is a renowned scholar cited in respected journals, an aggressive researcher winning multiple grants and a passionate teacher impacting scores of students.”

Soltis has won numerous honors for her contributions to the study of plant diversity. Jointly with Doug Soltis, she received the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London, the R. Dahlgren International Prize in Botany, the Asa Gray Award from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the Botanical Society of America’s Merit Award and the Stebbins Medal from the International Association of Plant Taxonomists. Thomson Reuters named her one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds in 2014. She also won the Botanical Society of America’s Centennial Award.

Soltis earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Central College and a doctorate degree in botany from the University of Kansas. She joined UF in 2000, after serving on the faculty of Washington State University for 14 years.

She is the founding director of the UF Biodiversity Institute and a member of the UF Genetics Institute.

She has published more than 400 peer-reviewed journal articles and oversees a diverse lab of more than a dozen graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and routinely trains at least five undergraduate students per semester.

Soltis has received more than $37 million in support for her research on the evolutionary history and genomics of flowering plants. She became the lead investigator on the project that launched the new Genetic Resources Repository at the Florida Museum and is one of the principal investigators for iDigBio, a project that made UF the hub for the NSF-funded program to digitize the collections of all U.S. natural history museums. This led to a $27-million award that has brought widespread recognition to UF for its leadership role in bioinformatics. She is also a co-principal investigator of a $7-million Department of Energy project to pinpoint the genes that allow certain plants to fix nitrogen and engineer this genetic pathway into other plants for food and fuel.

“I am very honored to receive this award,” Soltis said. “I have a fantastic group of collaborators at UF and elsewhere, and this award is for all of them as well. I’m also thankful for the supportive environment at UF, where collaboration is both valued and encouraged.”

SURA is a nonprofit consortium of more than 60 research institutions in the southern U.S. and the District of Columbia.

The SURA Distinguished Scientist Award was established in 2007, commemorating the organization’s 25th anniversary. SURA’s development & relations committee manages the solicitation, screening and selection of the recipient from a SURA member institution. The president and trustee of each of SURA’s member research universities are eligible to make one nomination for the Distinguished Scientist Award.

Soltis joins UF College of Pharmacy Dean Julie Johnson, who received the award in 2015, and microbiology Distinguished Professor Lonnie Ingram, who was recognized in 2008.

Science & Wellness

New butterfly species named for Field Museum’s Emily Graslie

March 8, 2018
Natalie van Hoose
Florida Museum of Natural History, biodiversity

As the Field Museum’s chief curiosity correspondent, Emily Graslie has plunged elbow-deep into wolf guts, dug up 52-million-year-old fish fossils and unpacked species classification using candy as stand-ins.

Graslie gives the public behind-the-scenes access to natural history collections via her educational YouTube channel “The Brain Scoop,” uncovering how museum specimens help us better understand and protect the life around us.

In recognition of her outreach efforts, scientists have named a new species of butterfly in her honor: Wahydra graslieae.

“We thought that after spending years explaining why specimens are important and bringing natural history collections to the attention of the public, Emily was definitely someone who should have a bug named after her,” said Andy Warren, senior collections manager of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. “She was really overdue for this kind of recognition.”

Wahydra graslieae is a dark rust-colored skipper with jagged bands of silver scales on the underside of its hind wings. The species is known from a single specimen collected in the Ecuadorian Andes in 2004 by Warren’s collaborator Harold Greeney.

The butterfly, about the size of a postage stamp, was stowed away in a Tupperware box of specimens waiting for identification until 2016 when Warren and visiting colleagues Eduardo Carneiro and Diego Dolibaina from the Federal University of Paraná in Brazil decided to tackle the backlog.

“We were an assembly line,” Warren recalled. “I was photographing the specimens, and they were dissecting and illustrating the genitalia,” one of the best means of narrowing butterflies to genus or species.

To the untrained eye, Wahydra graslieae may not be the showiest butterfly, but when Warren – a skipper expert – saw it, he immediately thought, “Wow, that’s bizarre.”

“We knew it was a new species, but we just had no idea even what genus it was. Nothing else looks like it,” he said. “Once Eduardo made the call that it was a Wahydra, it clicked. It was really a group discovery.”

Little is known about the genus Wahydra, a group of small Andean skippers found from Venezuela to Argentina with most species in Ecuador. Wahydra are rare in collections, primarily because they’re tough to find in the wild, living at high elevations where poor weather conditions predominate, Warren said.

In this obscure genus, Wahydra graslieae is distinct, much darker than other described Wahydra species and with pointer forewings and metallic silver scales that have previously only been found in very distantly related skippers.

“Wahydra graslieae seems to be this whole new clade,” Warren said. “It’s expanding our concept of what Wahydra diversity looks like.”

In the last few years, five new species of Wahydra have been described, but scientists have likely just started to scratch the surface of the genus’s diversity, he said.

Warren said of the 15 identified Wahydra species, scientists only know the host plant for a few, and all eat bamboo. He said that every 1,500-foot increase in elevation in the Andes results in a complete turnover in bamboo species and the butterflies that feed on them.

“That would explain the rarity of Wahydra and the patchiness of their distribution,” he said.

But fieldwork is not the only way to find new species. Museum collections themselves are also good places to look.

“I guarantee that the compactors in the McGuire Center are full of undescribed species,” he said. “That’s part of the value of museums. Without these collections, there’s no way to document biodiversity on Earth. It’s hard to know where to put conservation resources unless you know what’s really out there.” 

Wahydra graslieae could likely be rediscovered, “with a little bit of luck and effort,” Warren said.

Graslie said she will eagerly be following the research efforts on Wahydra graslieae.

“Someone might look at Wahydra graslieae and be completely underwhelmed by what they see. After all, it's tiny, and lacks the explosively dynamic colorations and patterns that come to mind when you think of a monarch butterfly or an atlas moth – two animals, by the way, that already have names with gravity. Monarch. Atlas. But this is not them,” Graslie said.

“This is Wahydra graslieae, a little-known creature that comes to us with more questions than answers. In that way I feel a sense of kindredness with this animal and am absolutely honored that Dr. Warren and his team saw fit to associate such a curious skipper with my name. I can't wait for further research to reveal more information about them.”

The description of the new species was published today in Zootaxa.

The Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) and the International Biodiversity Foundation provided fellowship support for this research.

Science & Wellness

Hidden pictures reveal the lost art of fore-edge painting

March 12, 2018
Alisson Clark
UF Libraries

Society & Culture

How vaccination is helping to prevent another flu pandemic

March 8, 2018
Nicole Iovine

A UF expert on infectious diseases discusses the effect an effective vaccine could have had on reducing the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic.

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An injectable flu vaccination. Flu vaccines lessen the likelihood of getting the flu and its severity. Flickr/, CC BY-SA

Researchers believe that over 50 million people worldwide died in the 1918 flu pandemic, making it possibly worse than even the Black Death that began in the 14th century.

Could another catastrophic pandemic like the 1918 pandemic occur again? Yes, unless we protect ourselves better. To do that, we should emphasize high compliance with the flu vaccines that are currently available while we pursue the longer-term goal of a better vaccine.

I am a board-certified infectious disease physician as well as the epidemiologist at University of Florida Health. I have seen the ravages of flu firsthand as well as studied and quantified outbreaks. If vaccines had been available in 1918, there is no doubt that the death toll would have been lower.

The flu past and present

Influenza has been infecting humans for thousands of years. It was described by Hippocrates as early as 412 B.C. While the symptoms of influenza and the common cold overlap – including cough, fever, runny nose, headache and body aches – influenza is more severe.

People whose immune systems are compromised, pregnant women and people aged 65 and older are at particularly high risk for complications from influenza. This includes respiratory failure and death. Usually, the mortality rate is about 0.1 percent. While this doesn’t sound like much, multiply it by hundreds of thousands of infections every year, and the death toll mounts up.

In 1918, the death toll was exceptionally high, at about 2.5 percent. When the 1918 virus was reconstructed from influenza victims buried in the Alaskan permafrost, we scientists gained some insight into why: The reconstructed virus harbored mutations that enabled it to bind to cells deep in the lungs, causing a viral pneumonia. That is distinct from the less serious upper airway infection that flu usually causes.

A flyer from the Chicago Department of Health in 1918, warning residents of the danger of influenza and pneumonia. John Dill Robertson/Chicago Department of Health

However, the 1918 virus was similar to other flu strains with regards to its propensity to cause a well-known complication of influenza called “post-influenza bacterial pneumonia,” or PIBP. The thinking is that damage to the lining of the respiratory tract caused by influenza renders a person susceptible to secondary infection by bacteria. In fact, most influenza-associated deaths that occur during normal flu seasons are caused by PIBP.

Vaccination essential

Death from PIBP continues to be an important driver of influenza-related mortality. Therefore, prevention is key. Vaccination is a crucial component of prevention efforts, and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all individuals 6 months of age and older.

However, only about half of all eligible people get the flu shot. Two misconceptions contribute to low vaccination rates: that the vaccine causes influenza and that the vaccine doesn’t work.

The first misconception is easy to dispel. The influenza shot contains only a virus that has been killed, or inactivated. There is no live virus in the vaccine that could cause infection. It’s as simple as that. You can’t catch flu from a dead virus.

Some people will still insist that they came down with the flu because of the vaccine. Confusion may occur if you are vaccinated and then develop influenza a few days later. Here’s why.

You can develop flu after you receive the vaccination, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine gave you influenza. Instead, it means you were already infected with influenza when you were vaccinated. Typically, your body needs about two weeks for the immune response to develop after a flu shot.

Since a person can transmit influenza 24 hours before symptoms begin, you may not realize from whom you caught it, because that person may have appeared healthy.

Challenges of making an effective vaccine

A second misconception about the shot “not working” stems from an overly broad extrapolation of “vaccine efficacy” studies. These are designed to approximate how many influenza infections are prevented by vaccination. However, vaccine efficacy studies don’t tell us how sick a vaccinated person may be.

Many studies show that vaccination decreases the severity of influenza as well as influenza-related complications. This is an enormous benefit.

People also misconstrue concerns in the efficacy studies about the difference among influenza subtypes.

There are four main influenza subtypes that infect humans. Two are dubbed “flu A.” They are defined by key proteins, called hemagglutinin (“H”) and neuraminidase (“N”), found on their surfaces. The influenza A subtypes that cause most infections are subtypes H3N2, the prevalent subtype this year, and H1N1.

There are also two influenza B subtypes. They are called Yamagata and Victoria.

Every spring, scientists and public health officials from around the world meet to determine the vaccine formulation for the coming year, based on what they know about the strains that are circulating at that time.

Each influenza vaccine will contain both influenza A strains and one or both of the influenza B strains, depending on whether you receive a formulation with three strains or one with four strains. Efficacy can change each year because flu viruses are constantly mutating, so that the viruses causing infections might be quite different from the vaccine strains chosen months earlier.

For example, over the past few years, the efficacy for vaccine for H1N1 and the B strains has been 40-60 percent. Efficacy for H3N2, however, has been lower, probably because it seems more prone to mutation.

While H3N2 is the predominant strain this season, one in four people who develop influenza will be infected with H1N1, Yamagata or Victoria. Efficacy is historically relatively high for the H1N1 vaccine. Therefore, people who are exposed to that strain but have received a flu shot would have a greater likelihood of being protected.

People, who are eligible for the influenza shot but choose to skip it, unnecessarily place themselves at increased risk for acquiring any of the four influenza strains or for a more severe disease if they do contract influenza. They also endanger others around them by potentially transmitting the infection.

Why doesn’t influenza vaccine efficacy exceed 60 percent? Vaccination against other diseases like measles or tetanus yields efficacy of 90 percent that lasts many years. The problem with influenza is its propensity to mutate, such that the strains causing disease this year are a bit different from last year’s.

When these changes occur in key viral sites such as in hemagglutinin, our immune system doesn’t recognize the mutated virus as well, and efficacy declines. Significant mutation can occur within a season too, as happened during 2014. Initially, the H3N2 vaccine strain chosen for the vaccine in February 2014 was well-matched to circulating strains, but by October of that year, H3N2 with mutated hemagglutinin had emerged and was different enough such that H3N2 efficacy declined to 17 percent.

Yearlong circulation likely increases mutation

While people tend to think of influenza as a wintertime disease, since it usually peaks sometime between December and February in the Northern Hemisphere, flu is around all year. The year-round presence of influenza viruses amplifies the chance that mutations will accumulate. This leads not only to reduced efficacy but also increased potential for a pandemic.

This problem could be solved if we could engineer a vaccine that stimulated an immune response against a region of the virus that was less prone to mutation. It would be even better if this viral target were common to all influenza strains. Such a “universal vaccine” is the Holy Grail of influenza research.

The ConversationThere are early-stage trials going on right now. If we are to prevent another catastrophe like the 1918 influenza pandemic, we must continue to support research efforts aimed at developing a universal influenza vaccine.

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

Science & Wellness

Why are we so sleep deprived, and why does it matter?

March 8, 2018
Michael S. Jaffee

A UF neurologist explains why sleep is so important, just in time for the return to daylight saving time and the hour’s sleep loss we experience the night we move our clocks forward.

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As many as 70 million Americans may not be getting enough sleep. Men get fewer hours of sleep than women. Akos Nagy/Shutterstock.com

Michael S. Jaffee, University of Florida

As we prepare to “spring forward” for daylight saving time on March 11, many of us dread the loss of the hour’s sleep we incur by moving our clocks forward. For millions, the loss will be an added insult to the inadequate sleep they experience on a daily basis.

Surveys show that 40 percent of American adults get less than the nightly minimum of seven hours of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation. The National Institutes for Health estimate that between 50 million and 70 million people do not get enough sleep. These recommendations for minimal sleep are based on a review of many scientific studies evaluating the role of sleep in our bodies and the effects of sleep deprivation on our ability of our body to function at our peak performance level.

I am a neurologist at the University of Florida who has studied the effects of both traumatic brain injury and sleep impairment on the brain. I have seen the effects of sleep impairment and the significant effects it can have.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, American adults currently average 6.9 hours of sleep per night compared with the 1940s, when most American adults were averaging 7.9 hours a night, or one hour more each night. In fact, in 1942, 84 percent of Americans got the recommended seven to nine hours; in 2013, that number had dropped to 59 percent. Participants in that same Gallup poll reported on average they felt they needed 7.3 hours of sleep each night but were not getting enough, causing an average nightly sleep debt of 24 minutes. Fitbit in January 2018 announced results of a study it conducted of 6 billion nights of its customers’ sleep and reported that men actually get even less than women, about 6.5 hours.

Why sleep matters

The problems caused by sleep shortage go beyond tiredness. In recent years, studies have shown that adults who were short sleepers, or those who got less than seven hours in 24 hours, were more likely to report 10 chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and depression, compared to those who got enough sleep, that is, seven or more hours in a 24-hour period.

There are more challenges for children, as they are thought to have an increased sleep need compared to adults. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours a day and teens 13 to 18 should sleep eight to 10 hours daily on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

A Sleep Foundation poll of parents suggested that American children are getting one hour of sleep or more per night less than what their body and brain require.

Researchers have found that sleep deprivation of even a single hour can have a harmful effect on a child’s developing brain. Inadequate sleep can affect synaptic plasticity and memory encoding, and it can result in inattentiveness in the classroom.

Every one of our biological systems is affected by sleep. When we don’t sleep long enough or when we experience poor quality of sleep, there can be serious biological consequences.

When we are sleep deprived, our bodies become more aroused through an enhanced sympathetic nervous system, known as “fight or flight.” There is a greater propensity for increased blood pressure and possible risk of coronary heart disease. Our endocrine system releases more cortisol, a stress hormone. The body has less glucose tolerance and greater insulin resistance, which in the long term can cause an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Also, sleep deprivation causes a reduction in growth hormone and muscle maintenance.

We also rely on sleep to maintain our metabolism. Sleep deprivation can lead to decreased release of the hormone leptin and increased release of the hormone ghrelin, which can be associated with increased appetite and weight gain.

The human body also relies on sleep to help with our immune system. Sleep deprivation is associated with increased inflammation and decreased antibodies to influenza and decreased resistance to infection.

Inadequate sleep has been associated with a negative effect on mood as well as decreased attention and increased memory difficulty. In addition, someone who is sleep deprived may experience a decrease in pain tolerance and in reaction times. Occupational studies have associated sleep deprivation with decreased performance, increased car accidents, and more days missed from work.

The role of the brain

Researchers have known for a while that brain health is an important aspect of sleep. Notably, sleep is an important part of memory consolidation and learning.

Newer research has suggested another important aspect of sleep for our brain: There is a system for the elimination of possibly harmful proteins such as abnormal variants of amyloid. This waste removal process, using what is known as the glymphatic system, relies on sleep to effectively eliminate these proteins from the brain. These are the same proteins found to be elevated in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that older adults with less sleep have greater accumulations of these proteins in their brains.

Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the circadian system, which helps signal the brain to sleep using the release of the natural hormone melatonin. It turns out that our body’s system for regulating melatonin and our sleep schedule is most powerfully controlled by light.

There are cells in the retina of our eye that communicate directly with the brain’s biological clock regulators located in the hypothalamus and this pathway is most affected by light. These neurons have been found to be most affected by light waves from the blue spectrum or blue light. This is the kind of light most prominent in electronic lights from computers and smartphones. This has become a modern challenge that can adversely affect our natural sleep-wake cycle.

Additional factors that can hamper sleep include pain conditions, medications for other conditions, and the increased demands and connectedness of modern society.

The ConversationAs we prepare for daylight saving time, we can be mindful that many athletes have been including planned sleep extensions (sleeping longer than usual) into their schedule to enhance performance and that many professional sports teams have hired sleep consultants to help assure their athletes have enough sleep. Perhaps we should have a similar game plan as we approach the second Sunday in March.

Michael S. Jaffee, Vice chair, Department of Neurology, University of Florida

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

Science & Wellness

#YouToo? When the predator is your partner

March 8, 2018
Carmen Diana Deere

A UF Distinguished Professor Emerita stresses the importance of shining a light on conjugal violence against women, even as the #MeToo movement continues to gain momentum.

File 20180302 171274 1p0trom.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A street theatre performance on domestic violence at the Bridge Market Plaza in Chandigarh, India (2016). Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

Merike Blofield, University of Miami and Carmen Diana Deere, University of Florida

In 2018, the International Women’s day can be proud to now count on the #MeToo movement, recently praised by the United Nations experts in women’s human rights.

Yet if sexist violence against women has been under the spotlight and denounced in every context over the last few months, it is crucial to remember that most physical and sexual violence against women is at the hands of their partner.

In France, the case of Alexia Daval, who was found murdered in October 2017 and whose husband, Jonathann, finally confessed to the crime in January, was heavily covered by European media. In June 2017, even before Alexia’s death, several scholars and feminists denounced conjugal violence that is too often described as a “crime of passion”.

Such murders of women are all too common. In Argentina, the killing of 19 women in 18 days sparked massive protests against gender violence in 2016, spreading across Latin America in the past two years under the banner of “Ni una mas” (“not one more”).

According to the World Health Organization, 38% of all female murders globally (compared to only 6% of male murders) are perpetrated by a current or former spouse or partner. The prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) more broadly is at “epidemic” proportions: 30% of women world-wide who have been married or in a consensual union have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner. While such violence can affect men, in the vast majority of cases, including in Europe, the woman is the victim and the man the perpetrator.

The economic, social and health consequences for women, their families, communities and societies, are tremendous, even if they have not received the political attention they should.

Compared to women who have not experienced such violence, abused women are more than twice as likely to have experienced an unintended pregnancy that ended in an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and more likely to have a premature or low-weight birth. Almost half of the women who experience physical or sexual violence by partners report sustaining physical injuries that require medical assistance.

A series of factors

Decades of research in both developed and developing countries suggest a series of individual, relational, community and societal risk factors associated with women becoming victims of intimate partner violence, and men becoming perpetrators.

Individual risk factors include witnessing their mother being the victim of abuse, experiencing physical or sexual abuse themselves as a child, the harmful use of alcohol as a trigger factor, and the acceptance of violence as justifiable behaviour.

Relational risk factors include controlling behaviour by the male partner, marital discord, and large age and educational gaps between the two partners. Community-level risk factors include high neighbourhood unemployment, poverty and/or crime rates, a high proportion of illiteracy, and presence of individuals who justify intimate partner violence. Gender inequality is also strongly associated with high levels of IPV. As the WHO stated in a 2010 report “Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women”:

“Gender inequality and male dominance reduces the opportunities for women to be involved in decision-making at every level; decreases the resources available to women; and increases acceptance of the use of violence against women.”

Education and asset ownership mitigate risks

A consistent result from developing countries is that women’s education is associated with a lower risk of physical violence particularly their having completed secondary schooling.

Being economically active turns out to be more complicated; some studies find it decreases the risk, while others have found no relation or even a backlash effect. What may matter more is whether women control the income they earn, and especially if they own assets. Economic vulnerability – fear of losing access to shelter and being deprived of the means of generating an income – is one of the reasons that abused women often stay in an oppressive relationship.

Ownership of a dwelling or land may provide women with a concrete option, a place to which to move or the legal standing to be able to exclude an abusive spouse from the home. It may also increase women’s bargaining power in a relationship and deter abuse by reducing a women’s tolerance to violence and raising its cost to men. The potential protective role of homeownership when women themselves own a dwelling has been shown in studies ranging from India to the US.

But which assets – land, housing, savings – increase women’s bargaining power and deter abuse may depend on the context. Carmen Diana Deere and co-authors argue that it is women’s share of couple wealth that most likely increases their bargaining power in a relationship. They found that in Ecuador, women’s share of couple wealth was a protective factor against physical violence from a partner, and in Ghana, against emotional abuse.

How can the state help

The state also plays a crucial role in ameliorating – or aggravating – gender inequalities. The 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which recognized violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights, was a watershed agreement on the global level.

German posters against domestic abuse and violence, 2011. Metro Centric/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Governments around the world have since then passed laws and directed more resources to combatting this problem. Laws that ensure the ability to receive a protective order, assistance with custody issues, and child support all strengthen the position of women by making exit from a violent relationship more feasible. Strong support for victims, such as well-trained healthcare personnel, availability of shelters, a responsive police and court systems are also necessary.

One innovative policy has been to set up women’s units or police stations to improve the ability of authorities to respond to women’s needs. Countries taking such steps are primarily in Latin America and Africa, but also Asia and Europe.

All such programs can help victims come forward, protect them from retaliation, and reduce violence. In the United States, the expansion of legal-assistance programs after the Violence against Women Act of 1994 helped reduce IPV – by one account up to 21% in just the first four years after its passage.

While these and other initiatives can help reduce intimate partner violence, comprehensive solutions will continue to elude us until we reconceive intimate partner and sexual violence as a “men’s issue”, not only a “women’s issue”. Programs that directly engage men and boys in violence prevention can make a dramatic difference in changing violent attitudes and behaviour, especially when they reach adolescence.

A social initiative called ‘Slap her’ video-recorded reactions from young boys confronted to violence against girls.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where nearly two-thirds of women report violence at the hands of their partner, a 15-week program targeted 324 men and their partners. Three years later, most of the partners involved reported that violence at home had stopped altogether. After workshops in Mumbai, India, the number of young men who reported using violence against their partner decreased more than two-fold

Getting more political will and resources behind programs targeting men requires getting men on board as partners and allies. A promising signal are organizations run by men, for men, promoting this cause, such as Promundo on a global level, or local organizations, from the United States to Chile.

The ConversationThis post belongs to a series of contributions coming from the International Panel on Social Progress, a global academic initiative of more than 300 scholars from all social sciences and the humanities who prepare a report on the perspectives for social progress in the 21st Century. In partnership with The Conversation, the posts offer a glimpse of the contents of the report and of the authors’ research.

Merike Blofield, Associate Professor, University of Miami and Carmen Diana Deere, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Latin American Studies and Food & Resource Economics, University of Florida

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

Society & Culture

Want better sex? Try getting more sleep

March 8, 2018
Laurie MIntz

A UF psychology professor discusses research that demonstrates a two-way relationship between sleep problems and sexual problems, as well as between satisfying sex and sound sleep.

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Sleep affects sex, and sex affects sleep. It’s important to pay attention to both. VGstockstudio/Shutterstock.com

Laurie Mintz, University of Florida

One in 3 American adults do not get enough sleep. Sexual issues are also common, with as many as 45 percent of women and 31 percent of men having a concern about their sex life. While these might seem like distinct concerns, they are actually highly related.

How are sleep and sex related? I’ll state the obvious: We most commonly sleep and have sex in the same location – the bedroom. Less obvious but more important is that lack of sleep and lack of sex share some common underlying causes, including stress. Especially important, lack of sleep can lead to sexual problems and a lack of sex can lead to sleep problems. Conversely, a good night’s sleep can lead to a greater interest in sex, and orgasmic sex can result in a better night’s sleep.

I am a sex educator and researcher who has published several studies on the effectiveness of self-help books in enhancing sexual functioning. I have also written two sexual self-help books, both based in research findings. My latest book, “Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters – and How to Get It,” is aimed at empowering women to reach orgasm. More pertinent to the connection between sleep and sex, my first book, “A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex,” was written to help the countless women who say they are too exhausted to be interested in sex.

The effect of sleep on sex among women

The reason I wrote a book for women who are too tired for sex is because women are disproportionately affected by both sleep problems and by low sexual desire, and the relationship between the two is indisputable. Women are more likely than men to have sleep problems, and the most common sexual complaint that women bring to sex therapists and physicians is low desire. Strikingly, being too tired for sex is the top reason that women give for their loss of desire.

Conversely, getting a good night’s sleep can increase desire. A recent study found that the longer women slept, the more interested in sex they were the next day. Just one extra hour of sleep led to a 14 percent increase in the chances of having a sexual encounter the following day. Also, in this same study, more sleep was related to better genital arousal.

While this study was conducted with college women, those in other life stages have even more interrelated sleep and sex problems. Menopause involves a complicated interaction of biological and psychological issues that are associated with both sleep and sex problems. Importantly, a recent study found that among menopausal women, sleep problems were directly linked to sexual problems. In fact, sleep issues were the only menopausal symptom for which such a direct link was found.

Motherhood is great, but the demands of a new baby can exhaust a new mother. Sleep can become more appealing than sex as a result. FamVeld/Shutterstock.com

Interrelated sleep and sexual issues are also prevalent among mothers. Mothers of new babies are the least likely to get a good night’s sleep, mostly because they are caring for their baby during the night. However, ongoing sleep and sexual issues for mothers are often caused by having too much to do and the associated stress. Women, who are married with school-age children and working full time, are the most likely to report insomnia. Still, part-time working moms and moms who don’t work outside the home report problems with sleep as well.

While fathers also struggle with stress, there is evidence that stress and the resulting sleepless nights dampen women’s sexual desire more than they do men’s. Some of this is due to hormones. Both insufficient sleep and stress result in the release of cortisol, and cortisol decreases testosterone. Testosterone plays a major role in the sex drive of women and men. Men have significantly more testosterone than women. So, thinking of testosterone as a tank of gas, the cortisol released by stress and lack of sleep might take a woman’s tank to empty, yet only decrease a man’s tank to half full.

The effect of sleep on sex among men

Even young men can lose interest in sex if they are sleep-deprived. Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock.com

Although lack of sleep and stress seems to affect women’s sexual functioning more than men’s, men still suffer from interrelated problems in these areas. One study found that, among young healthy men, a lack of sleep resulted in decreased levels of testosterone, the hormone responsible for much of our sex drive. Another study found that among men, sleep apnea contributed to erectile dysfunction and an overall decrease in sexual functioning. Clearly, among men, lack of sleep results in diminished sexual functioning.

I could not locate a study to prove this, as it stands to reason that the reverse is also true. That is, it seems logical that, as was found in the previously mentioned study among women, for men a better night’s sleep would also result in better sexual functioning.

The effect of sex on sleep

While sleep (and stress) have an effect on sex, the reverse is also true. That is, sex affects sleep (and stress). According to sex expert Ian Kerner, too little sex can cause sleeplessness and irritability. Conversely, there is some evidence that the stress hormone cortisol decreases after orgasm. There’s also evidence that oxytocin, the “love hormone” that is released after orgasm, results not only in increased feelings of connection with a partner, but in better sleep.

Additionally, experts claim that sex might have gender-specific effects on sleep. Among women, orgasm increases estrogen, which leads to deeper sleep. Among men, the hormone prolactin that is secreted after orgasm results in sleepiness.

Translating science into more sleep and more sex

It is now clear that a hidden cause of sex problems is sleeplessness and that a hidden cause of sleeplessness is sex problems. This knowledge can lead to obvious, yet often overlooked, cures for both problems. Indeed, experts have suggested that sleep hygiene can help alleviate sexual problems and that sex can help those suffering from sleep problems.

The ConversationPerhaps, then, it is no surprise that both sleep hygiene suggestions and suggestions for enhanced sexual functioning have some overlap. For example, experts suggest sticking to a schedule, both for sleep and for sexual encounters. They also recommend decreasing smartphone usage, both before bed and when spending time with a partner. The bottom line of these suggestions is to make one’s bedroom an exclusive haven for the joys of both sleep and sex.

Laurie Mintz, Professor of Psychology, University of Florida

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

Science & Wellness

There are dozens of sea snake species in the Indian and Pacific oceans, but none in the Caribbean. Why?

March 13, 2018
Harvey Liillywhite

The director of UF’s Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory discusses why sea snakes are found in only some of the world’s oceans, explaining that the answer lies in a combination of climate and geography.

File 20180308 30965 10rs6te.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Yellow-bellied sea snake (Hydrophis platurus). Coleman M. Sheehy III, Florida Museum of Natural History, CC BY-ND

Harvey Lillywhite, University of Florida

Beachgoers often find unusual things that have washed up with the tides. But many people were surprised when a venomous yellow-bellied sea snake recently was found alive on California’s Newport Beach. Sea snakes are less well-known than other marine reptiles, particularly sea turtles, even though they number more than 60 species, most of which evolved 1 to 8 million years ago.

Sea snakes are found only in the Indian and Pacific oceans. For many years, herpetologists and biologists like me have pondered why there are no sea snakes in the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea. With colleagues at the University of Florida and elsewhere, I’ve recently proposed some answers to this long-standing question.

Wide-ranging, with limits

In some ways it was not surprising to see a yellow-bellied sea snake, Hydrophis platurus, wash ashore in California. This is the only species of sea snake that is “pelagic,” drifting and following the broad circulation patterns of oceanic currents. It has the broadest distribution of any squamate reptile (the group that includes lizards and snakes), ranging from the tip of South Africa across the Indo-Pacific to the Pacific coast of Central America. The snake that turned up at Newport Beach was the fourth found in California since 2015.

Global distribution of sea snakes, with Coral Triangle region circled. Lillywhite et al., BioScience 68 (1), 2018., CC BY-ND

Normally, however, this far-ranging sea snake occurs in more tropical waters where temperatures are appropriate for it. Why not the Caribbean or Atlantic? I tackled this question with Coleman Sheehy III, collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History; Harold Heatwole of North Carolina State University; François Brischoux of France’s National Committee for Scientific Research; and David Steadman, curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. In our study we considered sea snakes’ biology, evolutionary history and environmental conditions that we believe have prevented them from migrating into the Atlantic.

Climatic and current barriers

Not all sea snakes spend their entire lives in the ocean. Some species, called sea kraits, can live on land or in water and lay their eggs on land. This limits their range because they need to stay near land to reproduce.

In contrast, all entirely marine sea snakes are viviparous: They give birth to fully-formed young at sea, without laying eggs. This essential trait allowed the pelagic yellow-bellied sea snake to extend its range across the entire Indo-Pacific from an area of origin somewhere in the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia.

By the time it reached Central America’s Pacific coast however, the Isthmus of Panama had formed, fully separating the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, it became possible for an occasional sea snake to enter Caribbean waters accidentally. However, this species tends to drift with currents, so it is highly unlikely that enough could pass through the canal and find one another to the east to establish a breeding population. In fact, no population of sea snakes has been established on the eastern side of the canal since its completion in 1914.

Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina) returning to the sea in Malaysia. Bernard Dupont, CC BY-SA

Sea snakes also could enter the Atlantic Ocean by swimming from the Indian Ocean around the tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Yellow-bellied sea snakes do occur in the waters immediately east of the cape, but two major obstacles prevent them from traveling farther west.

First, just west of the cape, the Benguela Current brings upwelling of very cold water to the coast of southwestern Africa. This current is 200 to 300 kilometers wide, and its water is too cold – about 55 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface – for sea snakes that might drift there to survive for long or reproduce.

Second, as my research has shown, sea snakes require fresh water for drinking and will dehydrate at sea without it. They drink from “lenses” of fresh or brackish water that form temporarily on the ocean’s surface after large downpours of rain. But the climate of coastal southwest Africa is characterized by a large zone of permanent high pressure, which makes the region very dry with almost no rainfall.

Evolving from land to sea

Sea snakes also could become established by making evolutionary transitions from terrestrial or freshwater habitats to marine habitats in the island systems of the Caribbean. We know that elapid snakes – a family of venomous snakes with short, fixed-front fangs, such as cobras – have done this in the Coral Triangle region.

Indeed, most of today’s sea snakes originated and evolved into different species in this part of the globe between 2 to 16 million years ago. At that time, this region was a vast wetland complex associated with Southeast Asia and the Australasian archipelago.

Land and sea are interlaced throughout the Coral Triangle, and have been so for several million years. This region is also characterized by high rainfall, low and variable water salinity, and relatively stable tropical warm temperatures. Throughout much of its geological past, sea levels rose and fell many times, opening and closing marine corridors and causing mangrove fringes and mud flats to form and disappear. All of these conditions are favorable for evolutionary transitions from land to sea, and stable, shallow marine habitats have persisted for the past 3 million years.

The Coral Triangle covers 5.7 million square miles and is the most diverse and biologically complex marine ecosystem on the planet. NOAA

Similar changes occurred in the Caribbean, but the Coral Triangle is a much larger and more complex system. Multiple ancestral lineages of snakes occur in Southeast Asia, and there are four to five times more viviparous (live-bearing), estuarine species within the Coral Triangle than occur in the Caribbean.

In my view and that of my co-authors, the presence of appropriate lineages of snakes and a dynamic of ecological conditions favored speciation of sea snakes in the Coral Triangle much more so than in the Caribbean or anywhere else in the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, the Coral Triangle, broadly defined, appears to be the only region where viviparity is characteristic of the majority of estuarine snakes. These snakes live in coastal waters contacting freshwater habitats, and they were most likely to undergo an evolutionary transition from terrestrial or freshwater to marine habitats and give rise to sea snakes.

Navigating changing oceans

Could future oceanic and weather conditions permit sea snakes to disperse from the Indo-Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean? I believe this is quite unlikely. Thus, we do not expect any sea snake to show up on the beaches of Florida, like those occasional snakes that have drifted to land on beaches in California. There is simply no source.

There are already signs that some populations and species of sea snakes are in decline or have gone extinct, owing to changes in rainfall patterns, water temperatures, environmental contamination or human exploitation. Future climatic changes might bring negative as well as positive impacts on the biogeography of sea snakes.

The ConversationFrom my own experience watching sea snakes swim with graceful undulations over coral reefs, losing them (or any other marine organism) would be tragic and could threaten the health of coral reefs where sea snakes are top predators and considered to be harbingers of ecosystem change.

Harvey Lillywhite, Professor of Biology and Director, Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory, University of Florida

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

Science & Wellness

UF honored for Internationalization Initiatives

March 13, 2018
Margot Winick

NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, announced today that the University of Florida has been selected as one of five institutions to receive the 2018 Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization. The award will be formally presented during International Education Week on November 13 in Washington D.C.

UF is being honored for its broad commitment to international education and research, grounded in its fundamental goals of preparing our students to meet the challenges of a globalized world, striving for faculty research excellence with a global impact, and advancing campus diversity. A key component of the effort is UF’s 2014 Quality Enhancement Plan, entitled “Learning without Borders: Internationalizing the Gator Nation,” which was presented as part of UF’s reaccreditation process.

“We are pleased and proud to receive the 2018 Senator Paul Simon Award recognizing UF’s efforts in international education,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “This award affirms our commitment to international students, education, research and exchange as essential to the college experience, the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of people everywhere.”

Over 150 countries are represented in the UF community. This includes over 6500 international students, on campus or pursuing practical training, as well as almost 2,000 visiting international scholars every year.  Some 2,200 UF students studied abroad last year in over 100 destinations.  UF has almost 500 collaborative agreements with partner institutions across the world, and at any given moment UF faculty can be found around the world engaged in research and teaching.  

The Simon award recognizes UF’s efforts to support and expand this global reach.  This includes incentives to support international research linked to larger global learning outcomes, such as the Faculty Global Fellows Program and the Research Abroad for Doctoral Students grants. The Learning without Borders initiative, housed in the UF International Center’s office of Undergraduate Academic Programs has involved a significant investment in internationalize the UF undergraduate curriculum and the expansion and increased access to study abroad programs.

“Our goal is to help UF students develop the skills and knowledge that will enhance their competitiveness in the global market for talent.  And we want help our students become good global citizens, doing their part to steward the earth’s resources, improve the quality of human lives, and be proactive contributors to the search for justice and equality,” notes Leonardo Villalón, dean of UF’s International Center. The Simon award recognizes both UF’s commitment and our significant progress towards that goal.

To learn more, visit here.

Global Impact

National Freedom of Information Coalition to relocate to UF

March 15, 2018
College of Journalism and Communications
College of Journalism and Communications

NFOIC joins a renowned FOI Center and First Amendment Project at the College of Journalism and Communications

The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and the National Freedom of Information Coalition today announced that NFOIC will be relocating its headquarters to the University of Florida.

UF’s College of Journalism will now be home to three units at the forefront of freedom of information and First Amendment issues: NFOIC, the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project.  NFOIC will be located inside the Brechner Center and the two organizations will collaborate to create research and public-awareness projects advancing the access rights of journalists, and all citizens, to information about issues of public concern.​

NFOIC, currently located at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is a nonpartisan alliance of state and regional organizations promoting collaboration, education and advocacy for open government, transparency and freedom of information (FOI). Its affiliates include citizen-driven nonprofit FOI organizations, academic and First Amendment centers and journalistic societies.

The Brechner Center, founded in 1977, works to educate journalists, policymakers and the general public about the law of access today and how it should work tomorrow. The Center is a source of research, expertise and advocacy about the law of gathering and disseminating news across all platforms and technologies.

The Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to current and contemporary issues affecting the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, thought, assembly and petition. Its activities include filing legal briefs, authoring scholarly articles, publishing op-ed commentaries and presenting speeches and papers at conferences and symposia across the country.

“By forming an alliance, our efforts in protecting and advancing the public’s access to information will be amplified. This is particularly true at the state and local level, where civic life at the grassroots level is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy,” said Diane McFarlin, UFCJC dean.  “This work is more critical than ever.”

“Relocating to UFCJC and working with the prestigious Brechner Center strengthens our goal to enact needed legislative and administrative reforms to government transparency,” said NFOIC Board President Mal Leary. “The challenge to ensure state and local governments and public institutions provide access to their records and proceedings continues to grow.” Leary is a political correspondent for Maine Public.

The Brechner Center is led by Frank LoMonte, a nationally known media lawyer and former executive director of the Student Press Law Center.  He was named director of the Brechner Center in 2017.  The Brechner First Amendment Center is headed by Professor Clay Calvert, Ph.D., the Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication at UFCJC and one of the top First Amendment scholars in the country.

"With this strategic alliance, and with the vast resources of our journalism and law schools, the University of Florida becomes the preeminent center of thought leadership about improving public policy to advance the public's access to essential information,” LoMonte said. “The NFOIC's work as the nation's watchdog over state legislation affecting the public's right-to-know complements and augments our role at the Brechner Center in working with stakeholders from journalism, government, law and technology to make information more accessible and civically useful." 

NFOIC plans to complete its relocation by summer 2018.

Society & Culture

What the National School Walkout says about schools and free speech

March 15, 2018
Clay Calvert

In the wake of a massive national student walkout protesting lax gun laws, the director of UF’s Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project suggests that school officials should carefully consider whether punishing the protesters is the right course.

File 20180313 30983 1xqtjkl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Students from South Plantation High School, carrying placards, protest in support of gun control. Carlos Garcia/Reuters

Thousands of high school students across the nation left their classes March 14 precisely at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes.

The walkout served two purposes: to honor the 17 people – including 14 students – killed exactly one month ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and to call for stronger gun control laws.

Organized by a Women’s March unit called Youth Empower and promoted on Twitter with the hashtags #Enough and #NationalSchoolWalkout, students throughout the country took to the streets and gathered at various places to call attention to the problem of gun violence in schools and in their communities.

Some schools are threatening to punish these young activists. But others are trying to work with them. As one article put it, “The response from school districts has been mixed, with some threatening to suspend students and others promising to incorporate the walkout into a civics lesson.”

Enter the First Amendment

From my standpoint as director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, all of this raises important questions about the scope of First Amendment speech rights for high school students. Are the students who exit their classes immune from punishment?

A starting point for answering this question is to understand that the First Amendment only protects against government censorship, not censorship by private entities. Thus, only public school students have First Amendment speech rights. Private school students do not.

California is an exception to this rule. It has a statute known as the Leonard Law that extends First Amendment speech rights to students at private nonreligious high schools. No other state has such a statute.

From black armbands to student walkouts

The second point is that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in 1969 in a case called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that public high school students do have First Amendment speech rights while on campus. Those rights are limited, however. Specifically, the right of free speech ends when there are facts that might reasonably lead “school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.”

In Tinker, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of several students who wore black armbands to their schools to protest the war in Vietnam and to support a truce over the winter holidays. There was simply no evidence that the passive expression of a political viewpoint on a sleeve might substantially and materially disrupt educational activities.

Like Tinker, the student walkouts today are a form of political expression and, in particular, dissenting political expression because the students object to current gun laws. Such speech lies at the heart of the First Amendment.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court in a nonstudent speech case in 2010, “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people.” He added that “political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence.” With today’s walkouts, students want to hold lawmakers accountable for what they view as lax gun control laws.

Not immune from punishment

School officials who punish students for walking out of class today have the right to do so as long as they are enforcing regular attendance policies in a consistent manner. They could also argue that leaving class for 17 minutes amounts to a substantial and material disruption of educational activities, per the rule from Tinker.

On the other hand, missing 17 minutes out of a school day and, in turn, an entire school year seems neither substantially nor materially disruptive. Punishing students for a brief but important moment of political activism may be sending the wrong message about freedom of speech in a democratic society.

Many universities have said they will not hold it against applicants who are punished due to today’s walkout. As Richard H. Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid at Stanford University, stated, “Given the nature of this national tragedy and the true and heartfelt response of students in expressing their perspectives and expectations, the University will not consider the choice of students to participate in protests as a factor in the review of present or future candidates.”

The price of civil disobedience

So the choice to walk out and face possible punishment ultimately is left to the students. Sometimes that choice may be worth it. As Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida recently put it:

“The effectiveness of ‘civil disobedience’ has always depended on a willingness to throw yourself in the way, whether that is sitting-in at a lunch counter or occupying the university president’s office. But that also means accepting that disciplinary or even legal consequences may result.”

The ConversationThe bottom line is that the First Amendment does not give public high school students a right to walk out of classes. It does, however, give administrators a critical justification for shielding them from punishment and to take advantage of a teachable moment about the importance of political protest in the United States.

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

Society & Culture

University of Florida selects new senior director for the Career Resource Center

March 15, 2018
Margot Winick

Ja’Net Glover, who has served as interim director of the nationally recognized Career Resource Center at the University of Florida, has been appointed the new senior director for the career center, effective March 23.

The career center serves 52,000 UF students and alumni by providing services such as helping connect job seekers with employers and offering students individualized career education and guidance to enrich their college experience and prepare them for life after graduation. Its Career Showcase is the largest career fair in the Southeast.

At CRC, Glover has led the department through a $9.6 million expansion of the center, continued to expand and implement an embedded career-liaison model in each of UF’s schools, and diligently worked to enhance student engagement with career services. The CRC is expected to reopen this summer.

The center’s expanded suite will total 29,000 feet in the Reitz Union, and include more interview rooms and multipurpose spaces to hold programming events and services, all geared toward helping students plan for successful careers and take advantage of opportunities.

“I am excited about the combination of Ja’Net’s experience within the Career Resource Center, within the community and with employers,” said Dr. Mary Kay Carodine, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “Ja’Net brings more than a decade of experience to this role and has a true understanding of the necessity of career services on our campus. Ja’Net’s leadership, engagement with stakeholders and team focus will move career services and the university toward top 5 as UF continues to focus on learning, engagement and meaningful work.”

Prior to her role as interim director for the Career Resource Center, Glover served as the Senior Associate Director for Career Services at UF, where she provided leadership and strategic direction for the center’s college liaison engagement, employer relations and fiscal management. Previously, she worked with the Alachua County Division of the American Heart Association, where she collaborated extensively with the Chamber of Commerce to enhance internship opportunities.

Glover holds a Master of Science in Management from UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Parks and Tourism from the College of Health and Human Performance at UF.

Campus Life

Study describes earliest evidence of ancient Maya dog trade

March 19, 2018
Beth King

Police detectives analyze isotopes in human hair to find out where a murder victim was born and grew up. Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the University of Florida and the University of Arizona combined clues from carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotope analysis discovering the earliest evidence that the Maya raised and traded dogs and other animals, probably for ceremonial use.

The results were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“In Asia, Africa and Europe, animal management went hand-in-hand with the development of cities,” said study lead author Ashley Sharpe, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who received her Ph.D. from UF in 2016. “But in the Americas, people may have raised animals for ceremonial purposes. The growth of cities doesn’t seem to be directly tied to animal husbandry.”

isotopic analysis Ground rock and human and animal teeth are inserted into vials before the lead is extracted to do isotopic analysis. This particular study focused on animal remains. You can learn more about Sharpe's previous work with human teeth here.

Study researchers found that animal trade and management began in the Preclassic Period some 2,500 years ago and intensified during the Classic Period, making it likely that organized ceremonies involving animal and human sacrifice and raising animals for food played important roles in the development of Maya civilization. 

Isotopes are atoms that have the same number of protons and electrons but different numbers of neutrons, and therefore have different physical properties. For example, carbon has two stable isotopes: carbon 12 with six protons and six neutrons and carbon 13 with six protons and seven neutrons.

Carbon in animals’ bodies comes from the plant tissues they consume directly or indirectly. Most plants use the most common type of photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. This process leaves mostly the lighter carbon isotope, carbon 12, behind, bound up in carbohydrate molecules. Corn, sugar cane and other grasses use another type of photosynthesis that concentrates heavier, carbon 13 molecules. Nitrogen isotopes in proteins demonstrate a similar pattern.

Sharpe, who began the research as a doctoral student at UF, and study co-authors analyzed the isotopes in animal remains from Ceibal, Guatemala, a Maya site with one of the longest histories of continuous occupation, and one of the earliest ceremonial sites. Most of the bones and teeth they tested were from the Maya Middle Preclassic period (700–350 B.C.).

“The animal remains fall into two categories, those with lower carbon isotopes, indicating they were eating mostly wild plants, and those with higher isotopes, which were probably eating corn.”

All of the dogs, two northern turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo, the turkey species that was eventually domesticated, and one of two large cats were probably eating corn or other animals that fed on corn, such as a peccary (wild pig).

Because people in the region often killed animals that came into gardens and areas where crops were being cultivated, it is possible that peccaries and turkeys may also have been eating crop plants, but it is likely that turkeys were managed by the end of the Classic Period.

Deer bones showed butcher marks, but they were hunted from the forest, not domesticated according to isotope analysis of bones that also had lower carbon isotopes.

One large cat and a smaller cat, probably a margay (Leopardus wiedii), had lower carbon isotopes indicating that they ate animals that fed on wild plants.

The ratio of two strontium isotopes reflects the local geology in a region. Forty-four of the 46 animals had strontium isotope ratios matching Ceibal and the surrounding southern lowlands region. However, to Sharpe’s surprise, jaw bones from two dogs excavated from deep pits at the heart of the ancient ceremonial complex had strontium isotope ratios matching drier, mountainous regions near present-day Guatemala City.

“This is the first evidence from the Americas of dogs being moved around the landscape,” Sharpe said. “Around 1000 A.D. there’s evidence that dogs were moved out to islands in the Caribbean, but the Ceibal remains are dated at about 400 B.C.”

Part of a big cat’s jaw bone with teeth was found with one of the dogs in the same deposit.

“The interesting thing is that this big cat was local, but possibly not wild,” Sharpe said. “Based on its tooth enamel, it had been eating a diet similar to that of the dogs since it was very young. Perhaps it was captured and raised in captivity, or it lived near villages and ate animals that were feeding on corn. We still have to look at the DNA to figure out if it was a jaguar or a puma.”

Sharpe is looking forward to understanding more about the context of these finds. “The results in this publication are based on excavations we did in 2012. My colleagues at the Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project will publish additional analyses, and I’m looking forward to finding out if all of the human remains at the site are from the region.”

 “It’s interesting to consider whether humans may have had a greater impact managing and manipulating animal species in ancient Mesoamerica than has been believed,” Sharpe said. “Studies like this one are beginning to show that animals played a key role in ceremonies and demonstrations of power, which perhaps drove animal-rearing and trade.”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, UF’s Latin American Studies Program Tinker Grant, UF’s Department of Anthropology Charles Fairbanks Award and Alphawood Foundation.

Science & Wellness

University of Florida graduate schools rank among nation’s best programs

March 20, 2018
Margot Winick

University of Florida graduate schools are among the nation’s top programs, according to the annual survey released today by U.S. News and World Report.

The College of Education continued to climb in the rankings and moved up five spots to No. 24. The college has shown persistent improvement over the past eight years. With substantial growth in research funding, improved selectivity in student admissions and strengthening innovation in technology and education initiatives, the steadily growing recognition came to no surprise for Dean Glenn Good.

“Good things happen when you do that over time, and that momentum can carry over into higher rankings,” Good said. “With our advances in research, our steadily improving rankings and the recent start of major renovation work on our historic Norman Hall building, it’s an exciting time to be at the UF College of Education.”

Advances at the College of Education include investing preeminent-university funding into high-priority research initiatives. These initiatives include: early childhood studies with the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies, personalized e-learning like the online tutoring tool Algebra Nation that serves all counties across Florida and several states, and Big Data informatics analysis of national educational trends and teaching practices with the Virtual Learning Lab.

Bright spots in this year’s rankings for UF also include the Warrington College of Business, which also moved up five spots to No. 14.  

“UF MBA strives to provide a transformational experience for our students,” said John Gresley, UF MBA assistant dean and director. “These rankings continue to solidify the value of our educational programs, expertise of our faculty and strength of our professional development opportunities for our students looking to maximize their MBA experience.”

Additionally, the UF College of Medicine and College of Nursing’s doctor of nursing practice programs maintained their stature as the highest-ranked medical school and nursing school in the state of Florida.

“These rankings are a reflection of our ongoing commitment to exceptional health professions education and research,” said Dr. David S. Guzick, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We have consistently shown that UF Health has earned its place among the nation’s best research-intensive schools. Our faculty and staff can once again be proud of their accomplishments.”

Other ranked programs include UF’s Pharmacy, which retains its No. 9 status, though it was a discipline that U.S. News did not publish a ranking for this year.

Top-50 graduate programs at UF among all programs in the nation, both public and private, include the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at No. 43, and the Levin College of Law, which remains ranked at No. 41.

The law school’s tax program held its spot as the third-ranked program, and its environmental law program returned to the top 20, landing at 18th overall. UF Law’s academic ranking among peer schools soared 8 points from 41st to 33rd. This is the law school’s highest-ever ranking in this category.

“We will continue our quest to become a top 10 public law school,” said Laura A. Rosenbury, Dean, and Levin, Mabie & Levin Professor of Law. “Last year’s seven-point surge in the rankings put us on the right track.   We remain laser-focused on implementing new strategies to help our students become leaders in the legal profession and beyond.”

To learn more about the criteria used to calculate rankings, visit U.S. News Best Graduate Schools website, here.

Campus Life

Meet the scientist who wants to use GoPro cameras to grow food on Mars

March 20, 2018
Stephenie Livingston
UF Space Plants Lab, IFAS, International Space Station

Science & Wellness

Drought-induced changes in forest composition amplify effects of climate change on carbon storage

March 21, 2018
Rachel Wayne

The face of American forests is changing, thanks to climate change-induced shifts in rainfall and temperature that are causing shifts in the abundance of numerous tree species, according to a new paper by University of Florida researchers.

The result means some forests in the eastern U.S. are already starting to look different, but more important, it means the ability of those forests to soak up carbon is being altered as well, which could in turn bring about further climate change.

“Although climate change has been less dramatic in the eastern U.S. compared to some other regions, such as Alaska and the southwestern U.S., we were interested to see if there were signals in forest inventory data that might indicate climate-induced changes in eastern U.S. forests,” said Jeremy Lichstein, senior author and a UF assistant professor of biology. “The changes we documented are easily masked by other disturbances, which is probably why no one had previously documented them. Without a long-term dataset with millions of trees, we probably could not have detected these changes.”

The study appears today in the journal Nature.

Lichstein and his team based their findings on systematic forest inventories of trees in the eastern U.S. from the 1980s to the 2000s. The team looked specifically at forest biomass, tree species composition, and climate variability. The researchers found that decades of changes in water deficit have reduced forest biomass, causing an influx of trees that are more tolerant to drought but slower growing. This shift results in significant changes in forest species composition with their accompanying ecological effects and, moreover, affects the capacity of forest biomass (the mass of living trees) to store carbon. Healthy forests play a key role in global ecosystems as they contain much of the terrestrial biodiversity on the planet and act as a net sink for capturing atmospheric carbon. As climate change affects the forests, so do the forests affect climate change.

Water stress can be caused by rising temperatures, decreases in rainfall, or a combination of the two. To study changes in soil moisture, the researchers used the Palmer drought severity index to examine average water availability and loss over the study period.

Forests are affected by other human activities such as farming or logging, and many are in a stage of ecological succession with lower biomass compared to mature forests. This history of disturbance made the researchers’ analysis challenging. To solve this, researchers compared forests on the basis of their age. “We compared forests in the 1980s of a given age (for example, an 80-year-old forest) to forests of the same age in the 2000s,” Lichstein said. “In areas where the climate got wetter, our analysis showed increases in biomass over the two decades, whereas in the areas that got drier, there were decreases in biomass. When we look at the eastern U.S. as a whole, there was an overall trend towards a drier climate from the 1980s to the 2000s, and therefore the overall effect of climate over the two decades was to reduce forest biomass.”

Drought-tolerant tree species tend to allocate more carbon to fine roots and less to their leaves and woody parts that would sequester more carbon. Lichstein said that although they expected an increase in drought-tolerant tree abundance would prevent biomass losses triggered by water deficits, the opposite appears to be true. “Functional shifts amplified the effects of climate by making forest biomass more responsive to drying or wetting,” he said. “In hindsight, this makes sense, because drought-tolerant species tend to be slow growing. So, if drought causes a shift towards more drought-tolerant species, biomass will decline compared to forests dominated by fast-growing, drought-intolerant species.”

Overall, the study shows that forest biomass and tree species composition and their combined impact on carbon storage are affected by climatic variability on a sensitive and short timeline — just a few decades. “It is premature to say whether or not the amplification effect that we documented is a widespread phenomenon,” Lichstein said. “We hope that our findings will stimulate further research into relationships between species composition, ecosystem function, and climate variability.”

Global Impact

Test your java knowledge with our coffee anthropologist

March 22, 2018
Alisson Clark
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, anthropology

Your morning coffee might seem like an unremarkable part of your day, but “coffee is so much more than a beverage,” says Chris LeClere.

LeClere is a coffee anthropologist, whose doctoral research at the University of Florida delves into what kinds of coffee we drink, where and why. That information is important for economic reasons: Americans spend $5 billion a year on coffee and another $32 million in coffeehouses, and major chains have used his research to better understand their customers.

Coffee also has social significance. In the United States, coffeehouses are replacing parks as places where people gather, LeClere says. 

Ready to test your knowledge of the social history of coffee?

Society & Culture

UF research spending reaches record $801.4 million in 2017

March 23, 2018
Joseph Kays

University of Florida research spending reached a record $801.4 million in fiscal year 2017, according to a new report to the National Science Foundation.

UF’s response to NSF’s Higher Education Research and Development, or HERD, Survey showed a $10.1 million increase, or 1.3 percent, in total expenditures over 2016’s total of $791.3 million.

Research spending is fueled primarily through individual grants and contracts that are secured by UF faculty in a very competitive funding landscape. This increase reflects progress in the university’s efforts to enhance its impact and reputation.  

Expenditures on projects supported with federal agency funding increased $20 million, or 6.6 percent, to $327.3 million while state projects increased $7.3 million, or 5.4 percent, to $142.5 million. Funding from non-profit organizations and foundations rose 15 percent to $42.3 million.

Life sciences research, including health and agricultural research, accounted for $589.8 million, or about 74 percent of the total. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health, is UF’s largest funding agency.

Engineering accounted for $97.8 million, while physical sciences – like astronomy, chemistry and physics – accounted for $28 million.

“UF’s research enterprise has been on a steady upward trend for many years,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “Surpassing this milestone of $800 million in research expenditures is testament to the thousands of faculty members who are helping to change the world with their science, and to the staff who guide these projects from proposal to completion.”

NSF collects expenditure data from universities around the country and compiles it into a report that will be released later this year. Last year, based on fiscal year 2016 data, UF ranked 24thamong all universities and 14th among public universities in research expenditures.

Among the largest projects under way in 2017 were a U.S. Department of Agriculture project to refine an inedible seed called Brassica carinata into a renewable jet fuel; a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project to keep Zika and other vector-borne diseases from gaining a foothold in the United States; and a U.S. Department of Defense project to study a type of heart disease that primarily effects women.

Campus Life

Mori Hosseini elected Chairman of UF Board of Trustees

March 23, 2018
Margot Winick

Tom Kuntz will serve as Vice Chairman

Mori Hosseini was elected Chairman of the University of Florida Board of Trustees today. Hosseini will succeed Bill Heavener, who has served as UF’s Board Chair since 2016, and will complete his term in June.

“Our new Board Chair exemplifies the leadership, vision and guidance that will be key to moving the University of Florida toward its goal of becoming a top-five university, said UF President Kent Fuchs.

Prior to joining UF’s Board of Trustees in 2016, Hosseini chaired the Board of Governors for the State University System, and has long been a champion of higher education in the state of Florida. Among a number of significant accomplishments, Hosseini was instrumental in the creation of preeminence and performance funding for state universities.

“UF is the flagship university in the state of Florida. This $5.5 billion university enterprise (with a $12.5 billion economic impact) shapes the lives of 54,000 students, more than 30,000 employees, and the citizens of our state every day – from the classroom, to our hospitals with all of their innovation and life-saving care, to the immense agricultural impact,” said Hosseini. “During my time on the UF Board of Trustees, the hard work of our faculty, staff and administration, and the support of our legislature and Governor Scott, have propelled UF into the Top 10 national rankings. It is my goal as chair to help UF achieve Top 5.”

The Board of Trustees also elected Tom Kuntz to serve as its Vice Chairman, beginning in July 2018. Kuntz recently finished his term as the Chair of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida. Kuntz served as CEO of SunTrust Banks, Florida, until his retirement in 2013, and brings a wealth of higher education knowledge to UF’s Board leadership.

The Board of Trustees is the governing board of the University of Florida, comprised of 13 members.

Campus Life

Banyan Biomarkers: Perfect storm of collaboration

March 26, 2018
Sara Dagen

“The perfect storm.”

That is how three University of Florida researchers describe their collaboration that resulted in Banyan Biomarkers.

The company made the news in February when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Banyan BTITM (Brain Trauma Indicator), a blood test to aid in the evaluation of patients with suspected traumatic brain injury (TBI). Based on the level of specific biomarkers present in the blood shortly after trauma to the head, doctors now have a quick and objective way to identify patients with head trauma who could safely forego the need for a CT scan, thereby avoiding unnecessary radiation to the brain and reduce costs of care.

“No idea originates in a moment,” said Dr. Ron Hayes, the lead researcher and one of the founders of Banyan Biomarkers. “Collectively, ideas become a kind of stew.”

“The idea that led to Banyan Biomarkers started with a simple collaboration between a biochemist and an expert in traumatic brain injury, me. Add an expert in proteomics – and you have the perfect storm of collaborative relationships.”

This perfect storm of collaborative relationships built a company that can provide objective data to healthcare providers when evaluating patients with a traumatic brain injury.  The goal is to bring this test to the sideline of an athletic field or in a medical facility near a battlefield or near an accident on the highway. It can make the difference between life and death.

The long, hard struggle, the day-to-day challenges of a startup company that led to this moment, this story of success is a convergence of not one but rather a number of perfect storms. A perfect storm of collaboration. A perfect storm of circumstances. A perfect storm of support.

And the end result is what one participant called a good story about “a good company with good people committed to saving lives.”

Perfect storm of collaboration

Hayes, along with UF researchers Dr. Kevin Wang, the “biochemist,” and Dr. Nancy Denslow, the “expert in proteomics,” are the “perfect storm” of collaborators who founded Banyan Biomarkers.

The trio met at UF Innovate | Tech Licensing recently to discuss their company’s success and reminisce about the company’s progression from an idea to an FDA-approved product with the potential to make the world better. Hayes, originally recruited by the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute to start a center for traumatic brain injury, has more than 35 years of experience studying brain injury.

(Nancy Denslow, Kevin Wang, and Ron Hayes are UF research collaborators who formed Banyan Biomarkers.)

Back in 2001, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked Hayes about proteomics.

“Proteomics is a field interested in providing a comprehensive view of proteins in an organism – both in specific time and conditions and over specific time and conditions,” Hayes explained. “At the time, it was a relatively new field never applied to brain injury.”

Proteomics is the study of proteomes, the entire protein set coded by the genome of an organism or cell type. Proteins are vital parts of living organisms that aid enzyme catalysis, defense, transport, support, motion, regulation, or storage.

“When you use the proteomic method, you find hundreds of proteins,” Wang said. “It’s impossible to narrow the field except by using ‘smart proteomics’ – finding candidate proteins and then pulling on the backgrounds and knowledge and expertise of the inventors to find the ones relevant to brain injury.”

“I reached out to other researchers, Nancy Denslow and Kevin Wang,” who both had experience in proteomics, explained Hayes, “and, ultimately, we came up with blood-based biomarkers for brain injury.”

Wang came to the McKnight Brain Institute in 2002 after working in pharmaceutical companies, where he got introduced to the concept of using biomarkers in disease-monitoring and in therapeutic development. His work in neuroproteomics, biomarkers research and industrial experience has proven invaluable to the Banyan team.

Denslow has a joint faculty appointment through the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Medicine at UF. But when Hayes reached out to her in 2001, she was serving as director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research and was known for her expertise in proteomics.

“Identifying biomarkers is easy,” said Hayes. “It’s finding the clinical value of the role of the biomarkers in injury and disease that’s extremely difficult. And that was the unique strength of the inventors.”

Biomarkers are measurable substances that indicate the presence or severity of disease. The brain-specific biomarkers Banyan uses are the proteins Ubiquitin C-terminal Hyrdolase-L1 (UCH-L1) and Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP). Immediately following an injury to the head, these proteins are released from the brain and circulate in the blood.

Banyan’s simple blood test of these two specific protein biomarkers provides objective quantifiable information to physicians, to eliminate unnecessary CT scans, guide patient care, and increase efficiency in the emergency department.

Perfect storm of circumstances

UF Innovate | Tech Licensing works with university staff and students to protect their intellectual property and help them get their ideas out of the lab into the marketplace where the ideas can do some good. Sometimes getting those ideas into the marketplace takes inventors who believe so much in their invention that they’ll become entrepreneurs and create a startup to make it happen.

Hayes, Wang and Denslow are those inventors. Though they had no experience in starting a business, they did what it took to get the company going.

“Banyan is a perfect illustration of how UF works,” Denslow said.

“UF was very supportive,” agreed Wang. “We were all faculty – and yet they enabled us to do this.”

The team took space at UF Innovate | Sid Martin Biotech in Alachua and benefitted from the incubator space as well as the leadership of Patti Breedlove, then-director of Sid Martin.

“Your passion has to be nurtured by your naiveté if you’re starting a company,” Hayes observed. “We faced great skepticism on this journey. The first time Kevin and I went to the NIH, they had absolutely no interest. People at that time simply didn’t believe biomarkers in the blood could indicate brain injury.

“They had two prejudices: the scientific dogma that suggested the blood-brain barrier would prevent a measurement and the prejudice that they didn’t believe there was a need for such a test. Of course, now the clinicians would disagree.”

But in 2003, the NIH supported the team’s work financially. That funding supported biomarker research in human traumatic brain injury. The early basic science and clinical studies provided data for patent applications filed by UF and licensed to Banyan.

At the beginning of the 21st century, when Hayes and his team thought they were onto something special with their biomarkers for brain injury, traumatic brain injuries took center stage in both sports and war. Circumstances would add to “the perfect storm” of collaborator expertise.

“Banyan Biomarkers was in the right place at the right time,” according to former Banyan CEO Jackson Streeter.

Football and other sports showed that a number of retired players who had suffered repeated concussions and more severe brain trauma developed memory and cognitive issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Autopsies done on some athletes who had committed suicide displayed evidence of CTE, raising public awareness of the long-term, potentially deadly, risk of repeated concussion and head trauma.

Traumatic brain injury also made headlines on the warfronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where as many as 400,000 soldiers had suffered traumatic brain injury in bombings.

“The signature injury of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was traumatic brain injury,” said Streeter, who currently serves as chief medical officer for Banyan.

Perfect storm of support

Those high numbers of brain injuries among soldiers made it easy to draw the attention of then-Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young, chair of the House Defense Appropriations Committee, to Banyan’s research.

“I was intrigued by the science and its potential for saving lives, plus the expanding market potential, and I readily agreed to help the company,” said former Gainesville Mayor David Flagg, who had been introduced to Hayes and his work with Banyan through a mutual friend. Flagg’s experience in Washington, D.C. would prove integral to navigating requests for federal government funding for Banyan.

As a state representative representing Alachua County and later as director of government relations for Shands HealthCare, Flagg had built relationships with the Florida Congressional delegation, including the late Rep. Young (R), Rep. Karen Thurman (D), Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R), Rep. Cliff Sterns (R), Sen. Bill Nelson (D), Sen. Bob Graham (D), and Sen. Connie Mack (R).

“I reached out to this bipartisan group, and the timeliness of Banyan technology was enthusiastically accepted by Congressional leaders,” Flagg said. “The rest of the Florida delegation came on board later. They saw Banyan’s technology as important, first of all to our military ‘warfighters,’ then for diagnosing TBI occurring in various sports as well as brain injury in the average population.”

Rep. Young requested the Department of Defense commit $3 million to Banyan over a period of 2 years.

“The DoD felt the impact of this issue because of the injuries soldiers were experiencing in the wars,” Wang explained, “and because the DoD is problem-solving oriented, they were more inclined to pursue objective solutions such as our biomarkers.”

The initial $3 million DoD appropriation was just the beginning. In 2006, it allocated $24 million to the stage of research. Following Banyan’s successful completion of that stage, the DoD allocated funding for $64 million for the FDA-sanctioned pivotal trial resulting in FDA approval of the blood test. The contract is still ongoing.

In addition, the National Football League and General Electric provided money to Banyan to do research with University of Florida and, eventually, additional NCAA athletes. The grant allowed UF physicians who work with the athletes to take baseline and post-injury tests to study their ability to help diagnose sports-related concussions.

In short, it was a perfect storm of circumstances that provided a perfect storm of support to a perfect storm of collaborators. The result was Banyan Biomarkers’ test that will change the landscape for diagnosing and treating brain injury.

David Day, then-director of UF Innovate | Tech Licensing, gives much credit to Hayes.

“Rare is the individual who has the vision and yet at the same time the professional humility to put together a solid scientific team, to bring in a government affairs pivotal player and then iterations of management leadership as the company grew and evolved,” Day said. “Ron is one of the few special individuals I have observed to pull off such a feat.”

Banyan Biomarkers’ simple test is the first objective blood test for traumatic brain injury. It measures levels of protein biomarkers specific to the brain and detectable shortly after an accident in which concussion or brain injury are suspected.

Physicians widely use CT scans to evaluate suspected traumatic brain injury, though the scans don’t provide clear and objective answers. 

More than 90 percent of patients presenting to the emergency department with mild TBI or concussion have a negative CT scan. Despite these limitations, nearly all patients are sent for a CT, which results in increased costs to the healthcare system and unnecessary patient exposure to radiation.

Banyan’s blood test may rule out the need for CT scans in patients with suspected mild traumatic brain injury.

“It takes $200-300 million to get a biomarker approved by the FDA,” Hayes said.

The perfect storm of collaboration, circumstances and resulting support made it happen. Flagg credits Gary Ascani and Streeter, who both served as CEO at some point along Banyan’s journey, as well as current CEO Hank Nordoff and Amy Griffin, who has served as director of operations and been essential to Banyan’s progress.

“Working tirelessly together and always putting the company first, Team Banyan recently achieved a major goal – that of FDA approval,” Flagg said. “This distinction reflects that of a good company with good people committed to saving lives.

“The new Banyan test is named Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator. Watch for it.”

Science & Wellness

Afro-Latinx panel urges students and faculty to engage in ‘ten seconds of courage’

March 26, 2018
Andrea Carla Lopez

More than 100 students and faculty attended the “I Am Enough: Afro-Latinx” panel at Pugh Hall on March 20 to learn about the experiences and challenges of the Afro-Latinx community. The nearly three-hour event explained the common misconceptions and obstacles faced by black Latin Americans who are often forced to take a side on their own mixed culture. The event also served as a call to action for black and Latinx communities to find unity in their commonalities and remember that although there has been progress made, there is still a long way to go.

“We are a society of forgetting . . . our struggles and our triumphs,” said Paul Ortíz, director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and associate professor of history, who began the event by discussing his observations and studies, having recently published his book, “An African American and Latinx History of the United States.” The main issue with instituting change, he says, is people forgetting the struggles that led up to them in the first place, primarily due to the gaps in the education students receive about American history. Key factors omitted from the education system are the influences from Latin American, African and Caribbean histories that forged social, political and cultural advancements in the U.S., he added.

Building from our progress, Ortíz said, is how people can channel their anger into action at both UF and in their own homes when educating others about diversity. The panelists, which included faculty members and students from both the black and Latinx communities, also agreed with this contention.

For panelist Shania Stephens, a student, being part of the Afro-Latinx community means not only claiming the identity, but being proud of it. Edward Hiraldo, another student, corroborated that message, saying that it was hard to feel that pride when growing up because of the negative connotations people impose of their culture’s characteristics, including narrow definitions of “acceptable” hair styles and parental pressures of avoiding “ghettoness.”

The Afro-Latinx identity also has it hand in influencing higher education experiences. At UF, student organizations and programs help students from all backgrounds find a home, along with an avenue to promote initiatives that expand awareness of diversity issues and increase inclusivity across campus.

Franeśa Brown, student, shared how student organizations at the university helped her find herself and learn about the commonalities between different ethnic groups. She said that higher education exposes people to the varying backgrounds of black culture.

Shortfalling representation is at the core of the obstacles created by lack of awareness of multicultural history and experiences. Panelists concur that the movie and television industry have a clear preference for using lighter-skinned, glamorized Latinx figures.

“People forget that there’s more than one type of Spanish,” said Alyssa Estrada, another student panelist. The Latinx community is composed of 20 Caribbean and South American countries, yet many nationalities and races, including Peruvians and Ecuadorians, are not represented in the media, Estrada said.

The concluding theme of the night was that the Afro-Latinx community needs more than just allies; it needs solidarity.

Correcting others and holding people accountable, despite how intimidating it may be to do, can help realize the popular notion of being “woke,” by turning it into proactive dialogue, said Bryce Henson from the Center for African American Studies.

“Focus on 10 seconds of courage, repeated behavior can change your lives and others,” Hiraldo said.

Diego Castillo, a Warrington graduate student who served as the main organizer of the event, ended the night by stressing the importance of keeping the conversation going with similar events that give people opportunities to understand one another.

“It is important to open the door for dialogue and conversation especially in this day in age where everything and everyone attacks each other instead of listening to each other,” Castillo said.

The Latino-Hispanic Organization for Graduate Students hosted this event, and co-sponsors included Multicultural and Diversity Affairs (MCDA), Hispanic-Latino Affairs, Black Affairs, HSA, She’s The First UF, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Center for African American Studies, and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

Other speakers at the event included Tanya Saunders from the Center for Latin American Studies, Diana Moreno from the MCDA division and student panelist Deionté Harvey.

A full video of the event can be found on the UF Multicultural & Diversity Affairs Facebook page. Photos from the event can be found on the Latino Hispanic Organization of Graduate Students Facebook page.

Campus Life

Malcolm Gets' latest role: professor

March 27, 2018
Rachel Rockwell
College of the Arts

Full circle

Campus Life

PBS' "Sex, Lies and Butterflies" features UF research

March 28, 2018
Alisson Clark
Florida Museum of Natural History, biodiversity

"Sex, Lies and Butterflies" — and Gators

Global Impact

Holi ‘Festival of Colors’ takes over Flavet Field

March 28, 2018
Andrea Carla Lopez

The UF Indian Student Association and Student Government brought together more than 1,000 students and families on Sunday, March 25, for the annual Holi Festival, an Indian celebration emphasizing the importance of community.  When the clock struck noon, the explosion of color kicked off as different colored powder hit the air and massive bursts of water from the Alachua County Fire Rescue truck made it rain for the crowd, where members of the crowd began splashing each other with different colors of powder.

Holi is a traditional Indian holiday that also celebrates the commencement of spring. It represents bringing together people from all walks of life to dance, sing and playfully smear others with colorful powders and water.  

The celebration of diversity is meant “to renew your friendships, relax your mind, and liven your spirit. Everyone and anyone, regardless of background or identity, is welcome and encouraged to participate in this exciting and colorful event,” the event page said.

(Nelsa Vazquez, a junior majoring in economics, participated for the first time in the colorful event.)

“I’m so glad I was able to take part in this event that is bringing together people of all backgrounds. It’s a refreshing thing to see when the news is often so focused on the negative aspects of life. My only regret is just discovering this now,” said Nelsa Vazquez, third year economics major at UF.

Free T-shirts, color powders and Krishna lunches were given to the first 1,000 attendees. Sponsors for the event also included: SG Cabinet Diversity Division, Volunteers for International Student Affairs (VISA), UF Office of Graduate Diversity Initiatives, The Mayor's Council, Women's Student Association (WSA), Inter-Residence Hall Association (IRHA), Asian American Student Union (AASU), Indian Graduate Students Association (IGSA), The Standard at Gainesville, The Pavilion on 62nd, Canopy Apartments, India Bazaar, Lollicup and Chuy's.

Campus Life

$3.2 Million grant funds development of new malaria vaccine

March 29, 2018
Joseph Kays

The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund has awarded the University of Florida and partners in the United States and Japan $3.2 million to advance a promising vaccine to prevent transmission of malaria.

Rhoel Dinglasan – an associate professor of infectious diseases in UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the university’s Emerging Pathogens Institute – has spent years developing a malaria transmission blocking vaccine, or TBV. The blood mosquitoes get from immunized humans would prevent the insects from becoming infected by the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria, thus breaking the cycle of disease transmission.

Female Anopheles mosquitoes pick up the Plasmodium parasite when they bite an infected human, then spread the parasite when they bite other people.

After Dinglasan and his colleagues identified a protein in the mosquito gut that Plasmodium needs to infect the Anopheles mosquito, called alanyl aminopeptidase N, or AnAPN1, they saw a path to preventing transmission of the disease by creating a vaccine to generate antibodies to AnAPN1 in humans.

Initial vaccine testing in mice stalled because the animals primarily generated antibodies to a less-crucial fragment of AnAPN1, so Dinglasan and his team refocused their efforts on solving the structure of the protein, which allowed them to more precisely map the relevant transmission-blocking regions of the protein to target. When they tested the antibodies to the redesigned vaccine target using infected blood samples from children in Cameroon, a country hard hit by malaria, they found that minute amounts of the antibody completely prevented transmission of the parasite to the mosquito.

The new grant from the Global Health Innovative Technology, or GHIT, Fund will further development of processes to move the vaccine from the experimental stage to human trials and, ultimately, a clinical treatment. The GHIT Fund is an international public-private partnership spearheaded by the Government of Japan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust and a group of pharmaceutical companies. 

“AnAPN1 is a great pan-malaria transmission-blocking vaccine and we have made it even better,” said Dinglasan, who was recruited to Gainesville under the UF Preeminence initiative. "This funding support puts the vaccine back in the process development and vaccine production pipeline with an eye on getting to first-in-human trials in a few more years."

Historically, malaria prevention has focused on killing the mosquitoes that transmit the disease using pesticides like DDT or shielding humans from mosquitoes with nets, but these approaches alone are not enough to prevent nearly a half-million people around the world from dying from malaria annually, many of them children under 5.

The next phase of the project involves numerous partners contributing unique capabilities.

CellFree Sciences of Japan is developing the important control antigens and Hamamatsu Pharma Research of Japan will assess the long-term potency of the vaccine in non-human primates.

The Infectious Disease Research Institute, or IDRI, of Seattle, has been a long-time longtime partner on this project and continues to assist by providing the adjuvant to boost the immune response to the antigen.

Ology Bioservices, a UF spinoff in Alachua, will develop the large-scale, process development and manufacturing plan and supply the AnAPN1 vaccine candidate for use in ongoing pre-clinical studies and to prepare for subsequent clinical testing.

Centre Pasteur du Cameroun will test the efficacy of antibodies generated in response to AnAPN1 in mice and non-human primates against naturally circulating strains of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, in direct membrane feeding assays in Cameroon.

Dinglasan said the TBV would work in concert with a traditional vaccine being developed by GlaxoSmithKline called Mosquirix™, which is scheduled for pilot implementation in three African countries this year.

“Our vaccine should work against all five Plasmodium parasite species that affect human health,” he said. “Mosquirix™ does not achieve full protection and many people, mostly kids, will still be infectious to the mosquito. Our vaccine puts a stop to that.” 

Ultimately, Dinglasan hopes the TBV will be the final nail in the malaria coffin, eliminating pockets of residual malaria transmission that prevention efforts and traditional vaccines cannot reach.

“This vaccine can help stamp out malaria globally,” he said.

About CellFree Sciences

CellFree Sciences (CFS) provides comprehensive solutions for protein production and analysis using the ENDEXT® Technology Platform originally developed in the laboratory of Prof. Yaeta Endo at Ehime University in Japan. With our different WEPRO® wheat germ protein expression extracts, CFS is serving the research community with protein synthesis services, reagents, and the fully automated Protemist® robotic protein production systems.


About Hamamatsu Pharma Research

Hamamatsu Pharma Research (HPR) is a preclinical CRO specializing in efficacy testing of novel therapeutics in nonhuman primate disease models. Our services provide preclinical proof of concept data that facilitates go/no-go decision making for new drug development.


About Ology Bioservices, Inc.

Ology Bioservices, Inc. (formerly Nanotherapeutics, Inc.) is a biologics-focused contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) serving both government and commercial clients. The company’s capabilities include a pilot facility for performing optimization of upstream, downstream and formulation functions, bulk cGMP manufacturing including biosafety level-3 (BSL-3), and analytical development for proteins, antibodies, viral vaccines and gene therapy drug products. The company provides expertise from preclinical through FDA licensure in a variety of production platforms, including microbial and mammalian cell culture and its proprietary serum protein-free Vero cell platform, a highly versatile platform that has been developed and utilized to deliver a wide range of candidate and licensed vaccines against emerging viral diseases. Ology Bioservices is headquartered in Alachua, Florida.


About IDRI

As a nonprofit global health organization, IDRI (Infectious Disease Research Institute) takes a comprehensive approach to combat infectious diseases, combining the high-quality science of a research organization with the product development capabilities of a biotech company to create new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines. Founded in 1993, IDRI has 125 employees headquartered in Seattle with nearly 100 partners/collaborators around the world.


About CPC

The Centre Pasteur du Cameroun (CPC) founded in 1959, is a state-owned public health and biomedical research institute located in Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. CPC is a WHO regional reference center for several infectious diseases, and member of the Institut Pasteur International Network with headquarters in Paris, France. The main activities of the CPC include service, public health, training and research.  Research is centered on bacterial, viral and parasitic agents, and their respective major pathologies such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, malaria, dengue and other vector-borne diseases as well as neglected tropical diseases.


Science & Wellness

Philanthropists honored for inspiring others during UF’s annual Academy of Golden Gators

March 30, 2018
Tom Mitchell

Two teenage brothers, a Japanese businessman, an entrepreneur who revolutionized pest control, the CEO of a pioneering entertainment- and media-focused university, and a couple regarded as a cornerstone of their community were recognized for their leadership, service and philanthropy by the University of Florida on March 1.

Fort Lauderdale brothers Josh and Bryce Benbasat, Winter Park couple Charles and Margie Steinmetz, Tokyo’s Sachio Semmoto, Winter Park’s Bill Heavener, and Ponte Vedra Beach couple Gary and Nancy Condron were recognized during the university’s fifth annual Academy of Golden Gators, which honors philanthropists and volunteers who are helping UF rise in its global impact and influence. This year’s celebration was held in Orlando.

“As the University of Florida explores opportunities to go greater for all the people we serve — whether through discovery, knowledge, sharing or outreach — we’re thrilled to recognize the individuals who are leading us by example,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “Just as the world is looking to UF for 21st century solutions, the university is looking to Gators like these honorees for guidance and inspiration.”

Five awards were presented during this year’s Academy of Golden Gators: Lifetime Philanthropist, Annual Philanthropists, Young Philanthropist, International Philanthropist and Lifetime Volunteers.

Lifetime Philanthropist Award

Bill Heavener’s contributions to UF — both through service and philanthropy — are immense. Heavener, CEO of Full Sail University in Winter Park, is a UF trustee and board member for numerous UF entities, among them: the Foundation, Alumni Association, University of Florida Investment Corp. and Warrington Business Advisory Council. He is past-president and legacy director for Gator Boosters. Heavener’s philanthropy is equally generous. His gifts to UF support undergraduates in the Heavener School of Business via the building that carries his name, Heavener Hall, and student-athletes through the Heavener Football Complex at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. He earned his UF bachelor’s in business administration in 1970 and was named a distinguished alumnus in 2011.

Photo of Bill Heavener for inside story

 Bill Heavener

Lifetime Volunteers Award

Charles and Margie Steinmetz are longtime university advocates. Among their volunteer leadership roles, Charles Steinmetz is on the UF Foundation National Board and served on the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ campaign steering committee. The Steinmetzes’ 2010 gift created endowments to boost UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Entomology and Nematology; in recognition, campus’ Steinmetz Hall is named in their honor. Margie Steinmetz is also an avid supporter of UF’s Arts in Medicine program. Charles Steinmetz, a leader in the pest control industry for more than 40 years, earned his UF bachelor’s degree from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 1961. He is a 1999 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner. Margie Steinmetz is an author, facilitator and national speaker on caregiving, life transitions and human potential.

 Photo of From left: Kayla Steinmetz, Chuck Steinmetz, UF President Kent Fuchs, Margie Steinmetz, Alexis Pugh, Beth McCague, Jim Pugh, Matthew Steinmetz and Reid Steinmetz

From left: Kayla Steinmetz, Chuck Steinmetz, UF President Kent Fuchs, Margie Steinmetz, Alexis Pugh, Beth McCague, Jim Pugh, Matthew Steinmetz and Reid Steinmetz

Annual Philanthropists Award

Over the years, Gary and Nancy Condron have supported Athletics, the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars and the College of Design, Construction and Planning. One of their latest leadership gifts supports the Whitney Lab’s sea turtle hospital in St. Augustine; Nancy Condron is a founding volunteer for UF’s sea turtle project and coordinates sea turtle patrols on beaches in northeast Florida. Gary Condron, who serves on the College of Design, Construction and Planning Dean’s Advancement Task Force and other UF boards, earned a UF bachelor’s degree in building construction in 1976. Nancy Condron earned two UF degrees: a master’s in business administration and a Juris Doctorate, both in 1986.

Photo of Shelby Condron, Gary Condron, Nancy Condron, Steve Strickland and Ryan Condron

From left: Shelby Condron, Gary Condron, Nancy Condron, Steve Strickland and Ryan Condron

International Philanthropist Award

Sachio Semmoto’s gift to the university supports the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. One of Japan’s most highly regarded businessmen, Semmoto started from scratch the first competitive telecommunications company in Japan, DDI Corporation (now KDDI). He followed with the creation of the highly successful telecommunications ventures eAccess, Inc., and, several years later, EMOBILE, Inc. At UF, he created a professorship in electrical and computer engineering and is the named benefactor of the global teleconferencing facility in the Herbert Wertheim Lab for Engineering Excellence. Semmoto earned a UF master’s degree in 1968 and a Ph.D. in 1971, both in electrical and computer engineering, and he frequently attributes his entrepreneurial success to his graduate education at UF. In 2004, he was recognized as a UF distinguished alumnus by the College of Engineering, and the Warrington College of Business named him the Distinguished Alumnus Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008.

Photo of UF President Kent Fuchs, Frances Semmoto, Sachio Semmoto and Beth McCague

Young Philanthropist Award

Josh and Bryce Benbasat began the charity PAWSitively Curing Cancer four years ago when the brothers were 15 and 12. Proceeds from specially designed dog collars and other fundraising activities are donated to UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine for pet cancer research and to support lab work investigating cancer vaccines. PAWSitively Curing Cancer was inspired by their own family experiences. The brothers’ first dog, a Lhasa Apso named Sashi, died of cancer, and their grandmother survived breast and lung cancer. Josh Benbasat, now 18, is a freshman studying business administration at the University of Florida. Parents Steve and Dena Benbasat are also UF alumni. Steve Benbasat earned a bachelor’s in finance in 1991, and Dena Benbasat a bachelor’s in education in 1992.

Photo of UF President Kent Fuchs, Bryce Benbasat, Steve Benbasat, Josh Benbasat, Dena Benbasat, Dr. Rowan Milner and Beth McCague

From left: UF President Kent Fuchs, Bryce Benbasat, Steve Benbasat, Josh Benbasat, Dena Benbasat, Dr. Rowan Milner and Beth McCague

“The people celebrated at the Academy of Golden Gators are absolutely gold-standard Gators,” said Beth McCague, past-chair of the University of Florida Foundation Executive Board. “Their vision, passion and pursuit of excellence are a credit to UF and an inspiration to us all.”

The Academy of Golden Gators reflects UF’s aspiration to be one of the nation’s preeminent public research universities by recognizing philanthropists whose commitment enables UF to solve challenges and improve lives throughout the world. The academy honors the generosity and vision of donors and volunteers who embody the spirit of the university.

The University of Florida has a long history of established programs in international education, research and service, and is one of only 17 public, land-grant universities in the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is ranked No. 9 in the most recent U.S. News and World Report’s list of public universities.

Campus Life

Leadership defined: Jon and Beverly Thompson bring earth systems to Florida and the world

March 30, 2018
Tom Mitchell

Fort Myers  couple Jon and Beverly Thompson have made a $10 million gift to the University of Florida to help people better understand and adapt to Earth’s rapidly changing environment and ecosystems.

Fort Myers couple Jon and Beverly Thompson have made a $10 million gift to the University of Florida to help people better understand and adapt to Earth’s rapidly changing environment and ecosystems. Their gift is the cornerstone of a $35.7 million university initiative to promote research-based information and responses to worldwide issues such as rising oceans, eroding coastlines, saltwater intrusion into freshwater supplies, “sunny day” flooding in seaside cities, disappearing wetlands and lingering droughts. “From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale,” the United Nations reports.

The Thompsons’ gift will be used to enhance outreach, discovery and information-sharing on a national and international level. The hope is to translate complex — and sometimes contentious — topics into digestible data that can educate the public, prepare communities and influence policymakers. It is the first phase of the university’s multidisciplinary Earth Systems Initiative.

“The research carried out at the University of Florida is critical to our understanding of Earth’s systems,” said Jon Thompson. “We believe it is essential that our university step forward to continue research on problems such as biodiversity and environmental conservation.”

The university’s depth and world-class research — along with the state’s rich ecosystem and the peninsula’s perilous position as an environment-change bellwether — position UF as an international thought-leader in Earth systems studies and problem-solving, UF President Kent Fuchs said.

“Our changing environment is one of humankind’s most urgent issues,” Fuchs said. “We need to figure out how to adjust and flourish in a new reality, not just for those of us here now, but for the generations that will follow us. We’re thankful for people like Jon and Beverly for putting UF on a path to address this critical concern.”

The initiative’s early priorities will be legislative outreach, information sharing with media and communities, curriculum enhancement for children in kindergarten through high school and engagement with the general public.  In addition, the university seeks to create an Earth systems center to serve as a resource for Floridians, UF students and faculty, policymakers, scientists and educational institutions throughout the state, nation and world.

This collaborative center would serve as a key part of the university’s and the Florida Museum of Natural History’s public outreach efforts.  In the spirit of good stewardship both of the planet’s resources and university finances, the center would be structurally integrated with the museum. 

“Florida is ground zero when it comes to climate change and its impact on our environment,” said Doug Jones, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History. “If we’re going to address this problem, we need to do a better job understanding its ramifications and explaining to people what we can do about it now. The Thompsons’ gift will support a new platform that helps us all be good stewards of the environment.”

The Thompsons’ investment in UF’s Earth sciences programs will further set the university apart as one of the world’s preeminent leaders addressing 21st century issues. The United Nations calls climate change “one of the major challenges of our time.”

“Jon and Beverly understand that confronting environmental issues requires an interdisciplinary approach that considers our planet as a complex system,” said David Richardson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Communicating the underlying science to the public is a challenge, but their vision will dramatically enhance UF’s impact in earth system research and outreach.“

Jon Thompson earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geological sciences at UF in 1961 and 1962. He retired as president of ExxonMobil Exploration Co. and vice president of ExxonMobil Corp. in 2004 after more than 41 years of service. He serves on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Geology Advisory Board, and was named a UF distinguished alumnus in 2005.

Beverly Thompson graduated from UF with a master’s degree in education in 1962. She is a member of the UF Foundation’s Donor Relations Advisory Council and the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Leadership Council. In 2017, the couple received the University of Florida Foundation’s Lifetime Philanthropists Award. The Thompsons are members of the President’s Campaign Cabinet. 

“Years from now, Gators are going to look back at this time and realize that the University of Florida has risen to rank among the world’s best institutions of higher learning because of Jon and Beverly Thompson,” said Al Warrington, one of the Thompsons’ oldest friends and the UF business college’s namesake. “We are a greater university today because of their generosity and care, and we’ll be an even greater university tomorrow because of the seeds they’re planting now.”

The University of Florida has a long history of established programs in international education, research and service, and is one of only 17 public, land-grant universities in the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is ranked No. 9 in the most recent U.S. News and World Report’s list of public universities.

Global Impact