In the news / Genomics

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The new variant to COVID-19 sports an unusual number of mutations, including some that appear to change the virus’ behavior. It seems to be significantly more transmissible, increasing the rate at which infected people infect others, although there is no evidence to date that the variant triggers more severe disease. There are efforts afoot to try to figure out how widely the new variant is spreading — one of them led by the lab of Dr. Michael Worobey, whose team is develop a test for variant viruses in wastewater from community sewage systems.
 
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Dr. Bruce Walsh received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 International Congress in Quantitative Genetics in honor of his foundational textbooks, teaching, and outreach efforts.
 
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Drs. Laura Meredith and Jana U’Ren pivoted their scheduled field work trip to Alaska to infer the impact of terrestrial carbon loss on climate change.
 
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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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Sinus infections are one of the most common illnesses, so identifying the progression of the common cold to chronic disease lasting longer than 12 weeks is critical in creating therapies that slow the development of a disease affecting nearly 12% of U.S. adults each year. A group lead by Dr. Eugene Chang, vice chair and associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the UArizona College of Medicine, was awarded $2.24 million to study a protein in the respiratory tract with a genetic variation strongly associated with these ailments.
 
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Dr. Martha Bhattacharya, a UArizona assistant professor of neuroscience and BIO5 member, discusses her research, her career, and her mentor-ship philosophies with the Daily Wildcat. Dr. Bhattacharya's lab recently linked a gene involved in neurodegeneration to the itch sensation that many mammals experience and has drawn interest from the agribusiness industry for her lab's discovery. In future studies, Dr. Bhattacharya hopes to characterize the role of this gene in our understanding of these itch-sensing pathways in adults.
 
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As of April 28, more than 6,500 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the state of Arizona.

 
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The BIO5 Institute solicited COVID-19 research proposals for seed grants supplied by the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF).

 
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Dr. Amelia Gallitano, an associate professor in the College of Medicine – Phoenix and BIO5 faculty member, has been included in the Phoenix Business Journal's list of "Outstanding Women in Business." The publication announced this year's Outstanding Women in Business, recognizing 25 women "whose efforts around the region have drawn notice from their peers." Dr. Gallitano studies how genetics and environmental stress affect the development of illnesses such as schizophrenia and mood disorders.
 
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As the human population grows to more than 10 billion in the next 30 years, plant breeders must do everything possible to create crops that are highly productive and nutritious with minimal environmental footprints. Rice will play a critical role in meeting this demand to feed the growing population, so understanding the genetic diversity of these crops is essential. To meet this demand, Drs. David Kudrna and Rod Wing examined the genomes from representatives of 12 of 15 subpopulations of cultivated Asian rice to detect virtually all variation that exists in the pan-genome of cultivated Asian rice.
 
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University of Arizona researchers have begun using a test that can detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in a person who has no obvious symptoms and possibly determine whether someone was once infected with COVID-19. By studying the antibodies present in a person's blood, the two lead researchers, UA immunologists Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya and Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich, hope to answer questions such as what unique antibodies are important to fight the novel coronavirus, how much of the population already had it and recovered or showed no symptoms, and whether it's possible to get reinfected with the virus.
 
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UArizona researchers and staff at all levels are working to assemble COVID-19 collection kits. Led by Dr. David T Harris, Arizona Health Sciences Biorepository executive director, UArizona Department of Immunobiology professor, and BIO5 faculty member, research staff had begun producing the kits over the weekend, ultimately assembling more than 1,600 kits. Dr. Harris said that while assembling the collection kits is fairly easy, it's finding the materials for those kits that's the difficult part. Despite already making nearly 2,000 of these collection kits over the weekend, Dr. Harris said staff aim to assemble 10,000 over the next two weeks.
 
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UArizona Pharmacology professor and BIO5 member Dr. Rajesh Khanna was named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) for his work with Regulonix. Dr. Khanna co-founded and serves as the chief scientific officer of Regulonix. The company is in the process of developing non-opioid therapies for chronic pain relief and management.
 
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Dr. Donna Zhang, a UArizona professor ofPharmacology and Toxicology and BIO5 member, has been formally vested as the Musil Family Endowed Chair For Drug Discovery. Dr. Zhang is an internationally recognized researcher who has spent her career focusing on the transcription factor that regulates the expression of antioxidant proteins, where she has made a number of profound contributions.
 
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Dr. Jeffrey Burgess, a UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health researcher and BIO5 member has spent decades researching the connection between firefighters and chemical exposures that can lead to cancer. Dr. Burgess and a team of researchers throughout the U.S. are looking into the genetic changes caused by a firefighter's exposure to chemicals present at fires and different methods that can be used to quickly clear their bodies of these toxins.
 
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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.
 
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Reglagene, a biotech start-up led by BIO5 members Drs. Laurence Hurley and Vijay Gokhale, placed second in the RESI Innovation Challenge during JPM Week in San Francisco. The RESI Challenge featured 30 early stage life science companies from around the world and is designed to help startups refine their business plan, improve go-to-market strategies and increase investor readiness.
 
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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.