In the news / Big Data

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Three teenagers—two soldiers and a civilian—were among the 50 million or more estimated casualties of the 1918 influenza A pandemic. The lungs of the three were saved, preserved in formalin for more than one hundred years, and are now being used to study the virus. Obtaining samples for the study is hard, and the team including Dr. Michael Worobey, UArizona evolutionary biologist and associate director of the BIO5 Institute, was able to secure a total of 13 lung tissue samples from people who died between 1900 and 1931. From specimens that were being housed in the Berlin Museum of Medical History and the pathology collection of the Natural History Museum in Vienna; three of them, all from 1918, contained influenza RNA. These organs are providing genetic clues as to why this flu virus took so many lives.
 
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UArizona molecular and cellular biology professor and BIO5 member Dr. Daniela Zarnescu, leads her lab in using fruit flies to study neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS. Dr. Zarnescu’s team have shown that locomotor defects are observed, like with ALS patients, where Dlp, short for Dally-like protein – is reduced at the site. The next step in this research is restoring the protein that corresponds to Dlp in humans, with hopes that it will increase motor function in patients.
 
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Scientists with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, an international project capturing the first images of black holes by connecting a network of telescopes around the Earth are partnering with Cyverse. Nirav Merchant, BIO5 Member, co-principal investigator of CyVerse and Director of UArizona's Data Science Institute shared about the importance of CyVerse's computational infrastructure in conducting this research.
 
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BEAMS is the latest in a series of UArizona-led respiratory studies – anchored by the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study, ongoing since 1980 – that have yielded revelations and remedies on asthma, the hygiene hypothesis and respiratory disease progression from infancy to adulthood.
 
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Between her academic prowess, national recognition for her newly published dose-response risk model, and her dedication to mentorship, Dr. Maria Sans-Fuentes is an inspiration.
 
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A new University of Arizona Health Sciences-led study aims to develop a novel dietary assessment mobile app for researchers to use that will help study participants more accurately track their saturated fat and added sugar intake. The app will prompt participants multiple times a day to report their recent intakes from a list of commonly consumed foods and beverages that contribute the greatest amounts of saturated fat or added sugar in the American diet. The resulting data will give researchers a more accurate picture of food consumption, allowing them to make better recommendations to improve health and wellness.
 
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The University of Arizona's COVID-19 vaccination site reached a milestone over the weekend, surpassing 100,000 doses administered. The site has now administered a total of 102,734 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, President Robert C. Robbins announced during the virtual weekly briefing on the university's COVID-19 status. The announcement came on the same day the university is transitioning to Stage 3 of its instructional plan, allowing courses of up to 100 students to meet in person.
 
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The university plans to move to Stage 3 the week of March 29, which will allow classes of up to 100 students to meet face to face, President Robert C. Robbins said Monday in his weekly virtual update on the university's COVID-19 status. It was announced that beginning Wednesday, March 24, at 8 a.m., any Arizonan age 16 or older will be able to register for a vaccination appointment at state sites, including the UArizona POD. New appointments at the state PODs will be released every Friday for the following week. Dr. Robbins also applauded recent research co-authored by Dr. Michael Worobey, head of the UArizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, on the origins of the novel coronavirus, likely circulating undetected for up to two months before the first human cases of COVID-19 were described in Wuhan, China.
 
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Amid the pandemic in the fall of 2020, Dr. Hsinchun Chen, UA Regents’ Professor of MIS, Thomas R. Brown Chair in Management and Technology in the Eller College of Management, and BIO5 member, along with wife Dr. Hsiao-Hui (Sherry) Chow, research professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson, AZ, established the Chen-Chow Bear Down Scholarship and awarded eight scholars. The goal of the scholarship is to engage underrepresented students from Native Nations in the Eller College’s Management Information Systems (MIS) department.
 
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Researchers working to show when and how the virus first emerged in China calculate that it probably did not infect the first human being until October 2019 at the very earliest. Their models showed something else: It almost didn't make it as a pandemic virus. Only bad luck and the packed conditions of the seafood market in Wuhan -- the place the pandemic appears to have begun -- gave the virus the edge it needed to explode around the globe. We now know that the COVID-19 virus had to catch a lucky break or two to actually firmly become established, says Dr. Michael Worobey, BIO5 associate director and professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.
 
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A new study dates emergence of the virus that causes COVID-19 to as early as October 2019. Simulations also suggest that in most cases, zoonotic viruses die out naturally before causing a pandemic.
 
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Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy leads the Arizona team tackling the pandemic’s outsize effect on racial and ethnic minority communities across the country.
 
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The University of Arizona has a vast ecosystem of expertise and knowledge, stored in the brains of 16,000 faculty and staff members. Many might say it's one of the University's biggest strengths. But our experts are spread across more than two dozen colleges, schools, programs, and other units. The new KMAP site, accessible to anyone, organizes the University's experts into a map, allowing users to see who has collaborated with whom. KMAP also has overlays that show where grant funding has gone and how many citations researchers have received. A search feature allows users to type or paste in keywords, sentences, or even entire articles and abstracts to see a list of colleagues with relevant expertise.
 
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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of countries have deployed digital apps attempting to identify people exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and stop onward transmission. Evidence that these ‘contact tracing’ apps work has been hard to come by. Now, studies from a handful of nations show mounting evidence that apps can help prevent infections and are a valuable public-health tool. One way apps could improve is in how they measure exposure risk, says Dr. Joanna Masel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, who is leading a pilot study of the COVID Watch app at the university.
 
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In late December, scientists in California began searching coronavirus samples for a fast-spreading new variant that had just been identified in Britain. They found it, though in relatively few samples. But in the process, the scientists made another unwelcome discovery: California had produced a variant of its own. In December, researchers in Britain found the variant to COVID-19, B.1.1.7, which is about 50 percent more transmissible than previous versions of the virus, and a driving factor in the surge of cases and hospitalizations there now. B.1.1.7 was in the United States in early November, according to a study by University of Arizona biologists including Dr. Michael Worobey, evoluntary biologist and BIO5 associate director. That would mean the variant had been circulating for two months before being detected. Other scientists are also looking more closely at the rise in frequency of the variant in California, searching for evidence that could determine whether biology or chance is to blame for the rise in the presence of the virus.
 
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Dr. Brian Enquist teamed up with Nirav Merchant, CyVerse co-principal investigator and director of UArizona Data Science Institute, to lead an interdisciplinary collaboration of the nation's scientists aiming to harness the power of big data and cyberinfrastructure to predict global biodiversity changes under different climate outcome scenarios. The project was funded this year at $2.5 million under the National Science Foundation's Harnessing the Data Revolution program, with just over $966,000 awarded to UArizona. The grant stemmed from work done by the Bridging Biodiversity and Conservation Science group, a new interdisciplinary initiative at the University of Arizona.
 
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The NASA Astrobiology Program has selected eight new interdisciplinary research teams to inaugurate its Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research program, including two teams at the University of Arizona. One team led by Dr. Betül Kaçar, Molecular and Cellular Biology assistant professor and BIO5 member, was selected from a pool of more than 40 proposals. The breadth and depth of the research of these teams spans the spectrum of astrobiology research, from cosmic origins to planetary system formation, origins and evolution of life, and the search for life beyond Earth.
 
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The daily number of cases according to Arizona's COVID dashboard have nearly doubled in the past weeks. Dr. Michael Worobey, head of the the University of Arizona's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and associate director at the BIO5 Institute, has written and researched pandemics worldwide. He agrees Arizona is on the edge right now. "We need to be preparing for a potentially very tough winter," Dr. Worobey said. While he says we need to take the possibility of a wave seriously in the next weeks, it should be done within context.