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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UArizona will lead a new National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center, called the Center for Quantum Networks, with core partners Harvard, MIT, and Yale. Electrical & Computer Engineering professor and BIO5 member Dr. Bane Vasic, will be a part of the senior leadership team for the center, which looks to lay the foundation to revolutionize how humans compute.
Indiana University announced this week the receipt of a $10M grant from the National Science Foundation to deploy Jetstream 2, a distributed cloud computing system to support on-demand research in a range of fields. Nirav Merchant, co-principal investigator of CyVerse, Director of the UArizona Data Science Institute, and BIO5 member, believes that this award presents exciting opportunities for CyVerse, as Jetstream 2 provides new options for cloud-based data science training, support for machine learning workflows, and opportunities to enhance security for research data sets.
Dr. Paloma Beamer, a UArizona associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and BIO5 member, discusses the risks of contracting COVID-19 through air travel and the precautions and steps you can take to prevent contracting the virus. Dr. Beamer believes it is important to assess the necessity of the trip before deciding to fly and recommends rescheduling if possible. Dr. Beamer also gives tips for safety and cleanliness for those that cannot avoid air-travel.
To address the critical need of local COVID-19 data, a collaboration of researchers from UArizona Health Sciences & The Data Science Institute including BIO5’s Drs. Nirav Merchant and Sriram Iyengar, launched a 2-way texting system to gather valuable info to track the virus in Arizona. The application will assist with identifying areas where resources are needed.
We all do better when we work together. Using cutting edge technology and big data analysis, the newly formed Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union (ACGU) will track the virus’ evolution and transmission. Co-founded by UArizona Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology head and BIO5 associate director Dr. Michael Worobey, the cross-university collaboration between NAU, TGen and UArizona is another example of how our combined strength will provide solutions to better Arizona.
A collaborative study led by researchers are the University of Arizona and Henan Normal University in China, traces acoustic communication across the tree of life of land-living vertebrates. Result of the study revealed that the ability to vocalize goes back hundreds of millions of years, associated with a nocturnal lifestyle and has remained stable. Surprisingly, acoustic communication does not seem to drive the formation of new species across vertebrates.
A UArizona research team, including BIO5 members Drs. Kobus Barnard and Mihai Surdeanu, have been awarded $7.5 million to create an artificial intelligence agent that can understand social cues and human interactions, and use that information to help teams achieve their goals. The grant comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and is part of DARPA's Artificial Social Intelligence for Successful Teams program.
A group of UArizona researchers, including computational biologist and BIO5 faculty member, Dr. Eric Lyons, discuss their methods and best advice for working with large and complicated data sets. Among the many tips, Dr. Lyons examines how video-capture tools can be used to record data analysis commands and keep track of different variables and inputs.
Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is a booming industry. Providers claim that their tests can reveal critical information about your health and ancestry. But how reliable are those claims? In this public presentation, Dr. Ryan Gutenkunst discusses the science behind the hype. He addresses what these companies are actually measuring when you send in a sample and how they use those measurements to learn about your past ancestors and your future health. Dr. Gutenkunst shows us how the complexities of human biology and human history limit what can be learned from genomic tests.
Directed by Dr. Hsinchun Chen, a UArizona cybersecurity program aims to train the next generation of cyberspace defenders. Thanks to a $3.6 million grant renewal from the NSF, the two-year program, the AZSecure Cybersecurity Fellowship, will continue to cover tuition and fees for graduate students and provides a stipend of $34,000 per academic year. About 30 students have already taken advantage of the program since 2013, and the renewal funding will allow the program to roughly 20 more students over the next five to seven years.
Many researchers with domain-specific expertise aren't aware of the predictive analytics, classification and visualization tools available, or they aren't fluent enough in the data science language to use them. A group of data-fluent UA researchers that includes BIO5 faculty Drs. Eric Lyons, Vignesh Subbian, and Nirav Merchant, is looking to change this by leading a grassroots effort to provide skills training designed to increase data literacy among researchers.