In the news / Bioinformatics

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Keep Engaging Youth in Science (KEYS), BIO5's flagship research internship program, provides students with the power of discovery.
 
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Single-subject genomic methods hold the key to understanding disease origins, assess patient vulnerability and predict treatment outcomes.
 
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Dr. Yves Lussier discusses the fusion of of technology and bioinformatics in precision medicine.
 
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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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Together, the BIO5 Institute and the UArizona Commission on the Status of Women funded two high-impact projects aimed to provide resources and mentorship.
 
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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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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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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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A UArizona Health Sciences research project called Saguaro Study, is designed to identify issues unique to University employees who are at least 50 years old and then test ways to help address or mitigate those concerns among the 5,700 employees in that age group. The team led by BIO5 member and chair of the Department Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Public Health Dr. Zhao Chen, are examining the balance of keep stress in check during the pandemic, while also maintaining physical activity and retaining social connections.
 
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The idea behind these rapid tests is to detect symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infectious people before they can spread the coronavirus. But despite massive distribution of these tests by federal officials – including to date over 40 million of 150 million rapid tests ordered from the medical company Abbott – COVID-19 transmission has been surging in every state since early November. For rapid tests to effectively limit spread of the coronavirus, experts suggest that they must be conducted with high frequency.
 
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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.
 
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A new study authored by Dr. Michael Worobey, UArizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology head and BIO5 member, tracks the spread of coronavirus through North America and Europe. The study investigates when, where, and how COVID-19 established itself globally, using airline passenger flow data, disease incidence rates, and genomic sequence data.
 
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Since the University of Arizona opened its doors, more than 9,000 students, faculty and staff had been tested for COVID-19 and everyone on campus was wearing a mask. The school had even begun sampling its wastewater to quickly detect a potential hot spot. But the centerpiece in the school's preemptive battle against COVID-19 was the "Covid Watch" smartphone app, which uses Bluetooth technology to send an alert to someone's phone if they are exposed to the virus.