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Doctoral Oral Exams for Nov. 2-7

October 23, 2020

The graduate dean invites all graduate faculty to attend the final oral examinations for the doctoral candidates. All exams will be held via video conferencing. Contact the department for online meeting information.

Final oral examinations for the doctoral candidates are scheduled as follows:

Manuel Enrique Estay Montecinos, Ph.D., Resource Economics, Monday, Nov. 2, 3 p.m.  Dissertation: “Three Essays on Industrial Organization and Natural Resource Economics.” Debi Prasad Mohapatra, chr.

Kimberly (Kym) Meyer, Ph.D., College of Education, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1 p.m. Dissertation: “Massachusetts Teachers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: A Mixed Methods Workforce Study.”  John Hosp, chr.

George Provelengios, Ph.D., Electrical and Computer Engineering, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1 p.m. Dissertation: “Addressing Security Challenges in Embedded Systems and Multi-Tenents FPGAs.”  Russell Tessier, chr.

Benjamin Adams, Ph.D., Molecular and Cellular Biology, Thursday, Nov. 5, 3 p.m. Dissertation: “Substrate Selection in Endoplasmic Reticulum Protein Quality Control.”  Daniel Hebert, chr.

Tyler Schuenemann, Ph.D., Political Science, Saturday, Nov. 7, 4 p.m. Dissertation: “Cyclones, Spectacles, and Citizenship: The Politicization of Natural Disasters in the US and Oman.”  Amel Ahmed, chr.

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New Report Calls for More Comprehensive Data on LGBTQI+ Well-Being

October 21, 2020

More Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or other non-binary identities (LGBTQI+) than ever before, but significant gaps remain in data collection and understanding of their well-being, says a new report from a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that includes M.V. Lee Badgett, economics and public policy.

These gaps have led to a dearth of programming and services that address the specific needs of sexual and gender diverse individuals — whom the report defines as individuals who exhibit attractions and behaviors that do not align with heterosexual or traditional gender norms. The report says government agencies, private entities, and others need to change their data collection systems to better capture the needs of this varied community.

The report, “Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations,” says the makeup of the LGBTQI+ community has undergone dramatic changes in the past decade. As more young people, women, bisexual people and racial and ethnic minorities identify as part of the sexual and gender diverse population, research needs to keep pace by better measuring its unique and varied nature. Many national surveys lack questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Intersex, bisexual and transgender populations in particular continue to be left out of important datasets.

In 2011 the National Academies published “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People,” a landmark report used frequently by researchers, educators, attorneys, health care professionals, community groups and federal agencies. The new report provides an updated and expanded examination — highlighting challenges faced by LGBTQI+ individuals and threats to their well-being, and recommending a path forward for the research community. It focuses on eight domains of well-being: the effects of various laws and the legal system on SGD populations; the effects of various public policies and structural stigma; community and civic engagement; families and social relationships; education, including school climate and level of attainment; economic experiences (e.g., employment, compensation, and housing); physical and mental health; and health care access and gender-affirming interventions.

Some of the report’s recommendations include:

  • Public and private funders should prioritize research into the health and well-being of sexual and gender diverse people, as well as research on development, implementation, and evaluation of services and programs that will directly benefit these populations.
  • The agencies and entities that make up the federal statistical system should add measures of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status to data collection efforts, such as surveys, clinical records, or administrative records.
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should reconvene the Federal Interagency Working Group on Improving Measurement of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Federal Surveys, and direct it to develop government-wide standards for data collection on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.
  • Federal statistical agencies should fund new research to improve measurement tools so that they capture the full range of sexual and gender diversity in the United States.
  • Funders should support studies using methods and sampling techniques that could improve the study of subgroups, such as transgender women of color, Native American Two-Spirit people and people with intersex traits.
  • The OMB convene funders should address problems in accessing and linking datasets housed across different agencies and organizations.

The study — undertaken by the Committee on Understanding the Well-Being of Sexual and Gender Diverse Populations — was sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Gilead Sciences, National Institutes of Health, TAWANI Foundation and the Tegan and Sara Foundation.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ PopulationsThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: New Report Calls for More Comprehensive Data on LGBTQI+ Well-BeingNewsletter Headline: New Report Calls for More Comprehensive Data on LGBTQI+ Well-BeingTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Significant gaps remain in the data collection and understanding of LGBTQI+ Americans’ well-being, says a new report from a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that includes M.V. Lee Badgett, economics and public policy.

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PERI Releases Pair of New Studies Detailing Clean Energy Job Growth Programs for Ohio and Pennsylvania

October 21, 2020

Researchers from the Political Economy Research Institute have released a pair of new studies detailing clean energy job growth plans for Ohio and Pennsylvania.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in the Appalachian region, as throughout the U.S., Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty and Gregor Semieniuk propose a recovery program as a counterforce against the region’s economic collapse in the short run, while also building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery. The Ohio study and the preliminary Pennsylvania study demonstrate how robust climate stabilization projects will also serve as major engines of economic recovery and expanding opportunities throughout the states.

The authors divide each study into five parts:

  1. Pandemic, Economic Collapse, and Conditions for Reopening
  2. Clean Energy Investments, Job Creation and Just Transition
  3. Investment Programs for Manufacturing, Infrastructure, Land Restoration and Agriculture
  4. Total Job Creation through Combined Investments
  5. Financing a Fair and Sustainable Recovery Program

The reports detail clean energy investment projects through which each state can reduce CO2 emissions by 45% as of 2030 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, achieving climate stabilization goals in alignment with those set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018.

The economists show how these two goals can be accomplished through large-scale investments to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in the states and to equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy supplies, primarily including solar, wind, low-emissions bioenergy, geothermal and small-scale hydro power. They say these climate stabilization programs can serve as a major new engine of job creation and economic well-being throughout the states, both in the short- and longer run, estimating that, as an average over 2021-30, a clean energy investment program scaled at about $21 billion year will generate roughly 165,000 per year in Ohio, and a program scaled at about $26 billion per year will generate roughly 174,000 jobs per year in Pennsylvania.

They further present investment programs for each state in the areas of public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture. Targeting investment areas including manufacturing R&D, broadband development, regenerative agriculture and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells, they find that investments of $8.2 billion per year in Pennsylvania and $7 billion per year in Ohio per year over 2021-30, equal to about 1% of each state’s 2019 GDP, would generate about 78,000 jobs per year in the Keystone State and 70,000 per year in the Buckeye State.

Overall, they find that the combination of investments in clean energy, manufacturing/infrastructure and land restoration/agriculture will create about 252,000 jobs in Pennsylvania and 235,000 jobs in Ohio, while providing the foundation for a long-term sustainable growth path for the states.

The reports, Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition for Ohio and Pennsylvania, are available on PERI’s website. The project was commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, Policy Matters Ohio, the Keystone Research Center and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

PERI Green Growth Programs for U.S. StatesThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: PERI Releases Pair of New Studies Detailing Clean Energy Job Growth Programs for Ohio and PennsylvaniaNewsletter Headline: PERI Releases Pair of New Studies Detailing Clean Energy Job Growth Programs for Ohio and PennsylvaniaTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

The reports detail clean energy investment projects through which each state can reduce CO2 emissions by 45% as of 2030 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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In Recent Paper, UMass Economists Epstein and Uğurlu ask: ‘Are Bankers Essential Workers?’

Subhead: Researchers say the U.S. has an opportunity to create a system of public banking and finance institutions similar to those found in other nations across the worldContact Name: Gerald EpsteinContact Email: gepstein@econs.umass.eduOctober 15, 2020

Are bankers essential workers? This is the question asked by Gerald Epstein and Esra Nur Uğurlu, economics and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), in a recent paper exploring the opportunity facing the United States to create a system of public banking and finance institutions (PBFIs) similar to those found in other nations across the world.

Their paper, published by the journal Catalyst, examines the ways that private lenders have inserted themselves into all aspects of the American economy, their many detrimental effects on individuals and small businesses and how community and public banking can serve as a means to rebalance the power currently held by the nation’s “big banks.”

“When they clapped every night on their balconies at 7 p.m. or made signs or sent out heartfelt messages thanking ‘our essential workers,’ they mentioned health care workers, first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, delivery people, and farmers, among others,” Epstein and Uğurlu write. “But bankers?”

The economists focus on four challenges facing the U.S. and global economies:

  • Revival and reconstruction of the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Transitioning to a carbon-free energy system to avoid catastrophic climate change
  • Addressing racial inequality, poverty and exploitation
  • Creating an economy that can produce meaningful and productive jobs for all while reducing “the savage and destructive inequalities that pervade our society”

In other countries, there has been a resurgence of public-oriented banking as the challenges facing their economies and the failures of the private financial institutions mount, they say. In the U.S., however, the authors write that the opposition of the private banking system, the industry’s political friends and the public financial governance institutions that favor private banking — most importantly, the Federal Reserve, have ensured that public banking and finance has remained small and underfunded.

Epstein, professor of economics and co-director of PERI, and Uğurlu, a doctoral candidate in economics and PERI research assistant, say that PB&Fs could provide as many as 10 potential benefits in the U.S., including competition and regulation, financial inclusion, financial resilience and stability, the promotion of full employment and better jobs and the reduction of the power currently held by financial elites.

“Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, famously said that it was unfair that people were so mad at him and other bankers for crashing the economy because, contrary to common belief, they were doing ‘God’s work,’” the authors write. “There is a real kernel of truth to the bankers’ and economists’ claims. In any modern economy, especially capitalist ones, money and credit are foundational. They provide key mechanisms through which economic activity takes place, and they are the medium through which everyday transactions occur. They provide a conduit for economic policy. And, perhaps most important, in market-based economies, money and credit provide a key fulcrum on which major economic transformations can be effectuated.

“Progressives need to grab this essential mechanism and turn it over to communities and the citizenry, so that they can apply it to their own purposes, rather than allowing bankers to make themselves essential even as they threaten to undermine the economy,” they write. “We also need to design effective ways to help workers, communities and the public at large to take more control over this critical financial system and use it as a tool for social, environmental and political transformation.”

The complete report, “Are Bankers Essential Workers?,” is available as a PDF on PERI’s website. Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy, is a peer-reviewed journal exploring capitalism, published quarterly in print and online by the Jacobin Foundation.

“Are Bankers Essential Workers?”Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: In Recent Paper, UMass Economists Epstein and Uğurlu ask: ‘Are Bankers Essential Workers?’Newsletter Headline: In Recent Paper, UMass Economists Epstein and Uğurlu ask: ‘Are Bankers Essential Workers?’Tag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Are bankers essential workers? This is the question asked by Gerald Epstein and Esra Nur Uğurlu, economics and the Political Economy Research Institute, in a recent paper exploring the opportunity facing the United States to create a system of public banking and finance institutions similar to those found in other nations across the world.

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As Climate Warms, UMass Amherst Economist Finds Improved Access to Primary Care Mitigates the Harmful Effects of Heat

Subhead: Research shows access to primary care services moderates the heat-mortality relationship by 14.2%, while acute treatment facilities such as hospitals reduce mortality from cold Contact Name: Jamie MullinsContact Email: jmullins@umass.eduOctober 15, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – New research from an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests that differential access to health care contributes to observed variation in environmental health damages, and that improving access to primary and preventative health care services may be a useful means of mitigating harm from a warming climate.

Using quasi-experimental variation in access to primary care services through the rollout of the Community Health Center (CHC) program across counties in the United States in the 1960s and ‘70s, Jamie T. Mullins, assistant professor of resource economics at UMass Amherst, and his colleague Corey White, of California Polytechnic State University and Monash University of Australia, found that the establishment of a CHC in a county mitigated the relationship between heat and all-cause mortality by approximately 14%.

While Mullins and White found little evidence that CHC access mitigated the effects of cold on all-cause mortality, by leveraging variation in access to acute treatment services arising from hospital desegregation in the American South they did, however, see evidence that improved access to acute treatment services is effective at reducing cold-induced mortality. Their study is available online and in the November edition of the Journal of Public Economics.

“We see unequal impacts of all sorts of environmental damages,” Mullins says. “It is critical that we understand the channels through which such inequities arise. In particular, it often appears that more affluent individuals and populations fair better in the face of damaging – or potentially damaging – environmental phenomena, but money doesn’t provide such protection directly, so what is it? We care about this, because we’d like to help those that are most negatively impacted through their exposures to various environmental factors, both now and in the future.

“What we show in this study is that better access to health care is associated with less health damages from high temperature events. Importantly, though, we demonstrate more than just this association, since better access to health care is correlated with all sorts of other things including general levels of affluence. We also identify a causal relationship between increases in access to health care – and primary care services in particular – and reduced health damages from high temperatures.”

To effectively design optimal public health policy, the authors stress that the health care access that is improved must address the types of ailments triggered by the environmental shock of interest. This is crucial when considering both current inequities in environmental health damages and climate change adaptation, as it suggests that expanding health care access will be an effective approach to reducing the harmful effects of adverse environmental conditions only insofar as the mode of health care can be reasonably well-targeted.

“These findings have two major implications,” Mullins says. “First, they help explain why we observe some communities suffering greater reductions in health from the same environmental changes. Our results suggest this is at least partly due to differences in access to health care. Such variation in impacts of environmental exposures exists both within and across countries, and our results suggest that the variation in access to healthcare partially explains these differences.

“Second, when we think about the damages expected from a warming climate, harm to human health is often one of the major components of expected costs. Our study suggests that one way to reduce the expected damages from climate change is to improve access to health care, and in particular, primary care services.”

The complete study, “Can access to health care mitigate the effects of temperature on mortality?” is available online via ScienceDirect.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: As Climate Warms, UMass Amherst Economist Finds Improved Access to Primary Care Mitigates the Harmful Effects of HeatNewsletter Headline: As Climate Warms, UMass Amherst Economist Finds Improved Access to Primary Care Mitigates the Harmful Effects of HeatTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

New research from an economist at UMass suggests that differential access to health care contributes to observed variation in environmental health damages, and that improving access to primary and preventative health care services may be a useful means of mitigating harm from a warming climate.

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New Report Finds the Economy, Health Care and COVID-19 – Not Immigration – Will Drive 2020 Latino Vote

Subhead: Researchers from UMass Amherst Center for Employment Equity and UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative studied voting bloc that could play major role in swing Contact Name: Donald Tomaskovic-DeveyContact Email: tomaskovic-devey@soc.umass.eduOctober 14, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In the four battleground states where Latino voters are most likely to influence 2020 election results — Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Texas — Latinos have lower wages, are less likely to have health insurance, and have a higher likelihood of contracting COVID-19 than other racial or ethnic groups.

That finding, from a report published today by the UMass Amherst Center for Employment Equity (CEE) and the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, helps explain why Latino registered voters say the economy, health care, the COVID-19 pandemic and racial and ethnic inequality are the top issues in the 2020 election, in a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The report refutes the common misconception that immigration policy is a top-of-mind issue for Latino voters, and suggests that candidates for federal, state and local offices who want to capture the Latino vote should focus on how they will address Latinos’ concerns about economic and health issues.

In the four battleground states, Latinos make up a larger share of workers than any other ethnic group earning less than $15 an hour. Latinos also receive significantly lower pay than white counterparts doing similar work: Latino workers earn 2.0% less in Arizona, 4.8% less in Florida, 1.6% less in Nevada and 5.3% in Texas than white workers in comparable jobs and with the same level of education.

Many Latinos have continued to work in essential jobs during the pandemic, putting them at a high risk for infection. As a result, Latinos have higher rates of COVID-19 than other racial groups, and are also more likely to be uninsured than any other demographic group in the four states. Compared to whites, the proportion of uninsured Latinos is 2.4 times higher in Arizona, 1.6 times higher in Florida, 2.3 times higher in Nevada and 2.2 times higher in Texas.

“Both political parties need to recognize that Latinos are 18% of all Americans, and this year and in the future they will decide elections,” said Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, founding director of the UMass Center for Employment Equity. “Latinos are citizens and should be valued for their contributions to the society as essential workers, with broad policy preferences that include living wages, freedom from discrimination, and access to high quality health care.”

The report makes the following policy recommendation to address the four issues Latinos are most concerned about:

  • Establish a national minimum wage of at least $15 and eliminate exclusions of minimum wage regulations for domestic, farm and tipped workers.
  • Increase Latino representation, retention and graduation in institutions of higher education through affirmative action, robust financial aid and integrated social welfare programs.
  • Establish universal health coverage and access to health care for all regardless of immigration or employment status.
  • Expand and enforce workplace health and safety regulations to protect workers from exposure to the novel coronavirus.

“Latino voters care about issues other than immigration reform,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, research director for the policy and politics initiative and a co-author of the report. “Latinos are essential workers and essential voters, yet they remain overlooked by our nation’s leaders in conversations about health care and the economy. Now more than ever, with Latinos holding the power to determine this election, we must understand the serious economic and health disadvantages faced by Latinos and we must design policies that will address these disadvantages.”

The complete report, “Top Issues for Latino Voters in Swing States for the 2020 Election,” is available on the CEE website.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: New Report Finds the Economy, Health Care and COVID-19 – Not Immigration – Will Drive 2020 Latino VoteNewsletter Headline: New Report Finds the Economy, Health Care and COVID-19 – Not Immigration – Will Drive 2020 Latino VoteTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

In the four battleground states where Latino voters are most likely to influence 2020 election results — Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Texas — Latinos have lower wages, are less likely to have health insurance, and have a higher likelihood of contracting COVID-19 than other racial or ethnic groups.

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Two Years After MGM Springfield Opened, Economic Benefits Noted But No Increase in Problem Gambling Detected

Subhead: UMass Amherst SEIGMA researchers present social and economic impact reports at 2020 Public Research Day WebinarContact Name: Rachel VolbergContact Email: rvolberg@schoolph.umass.eduOctober 14, 2020

AMHERST, MASS. – The opening of MGM Springfield – the first resort-style casino in the state – stimulated the local and statewide economy and enhanced job and educational opportunities for a diverse workforce while not resulting in any increase in the rate of problem gambling or at-risk gamblers.

Those are some of the key findings from the latest round of Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) study reports, which feature findings from surveys of MGM Springfield employees, casino patrons and community residents.

Researchers with SEIGMA, based at UMass Amherst, presented data about the casino’s social and economic impacts today, Oct. 14, at the 2020 Public Research Day Webinar, titled “Springfield’s Two Years as a Casino Host: Looking Back and Looking Forward.” The reports are part of the most in-depth and comprehensive investigation ever undertaken into the impact of introducing casino gambling in a community.

In the first year of operation, MGM Springfield directly created 2,538 jobs paying $85.2 million, said Thomas Peake, senior research analyst at the UMass Donahue Institute, the SEIGMA partner responsible for economic and fiscal impact research. Statewide, spending by the casino on wages and to vendors supported a total of 6,287 net jobs and $356.9 million in personal income.

“MGM did do a good job of hiring locally and they hired quite a diverse workforce with a significant number of people who had been unemployed or underemployed previously,” said Rachel Volberg, principal investigator of the SEIGMA study and research professor in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

Peake noted that most casino patrons did not shift their spending toward the casino and away from other businesses in Massachusetts. The research shows that MGM Springfield visitors accounted for $66.3 million in new, off-site spending. “One of the big findings we have is that 61.7% of patron spending was new to the state and would not have occurred had it not been for the casino,” Peake told the 90 attendees, the largest audience to date of any SEIGMA Public Research Day.

Public health researchers would typically expect an initial increase in problem gambling after the introduction of a casino, but that was not the case in Springfield, nor did problem gambling increase after the Plainridge Park Casino opened in Plainville in 2015.

“It appears to be an already exposed population as far as casino gambling is concerned,” Volberg explained. “The Massachusetts population is far from naïve when it comes to casino gambling. States surrounding Massachusetts, including Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, have had casino gambling for decades prior to the introduction of casino gambling in Massachusetts. Lengthy exposure means harmful effects may have abated over time, even in a population that has experienced recent local expansion.”

Other highlights from the reports, which will be available soon on the SEIGMA website, include:

  • MGM Springfield’s payments to government entities totaled $110.1 million.
  • About 59% of casino patrons came from Massachusetts (most of them from the Springfield area), and 41% from mostly nearby states. Less than 1% of patrons were international.
  • The percentage of the patrons with the lowest household incomes (less than $30,000 per year) spent proportionally more on gambling (30%) compared to their prevalence in the general adult population of Massachusetts. “An important social issue concerns whether people with lower incomes contribute disproportionately more to gambling revenues than people with higher incomes,” the patron survey report notes.
  • Out-of-state patrons accounted for 42.5% of the $259 million in gambling revenue at MGM Springfield from October 2018-September 2019, while also contributing 37.5% of the $83 million in non-gambling revenue at the casino-resort.
Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Two Years After MGM Springfield Opened, Economic Benefits Noted But No Increase in Problem Gambling DetectedNewsletter Headline: Two Years After MGM Springfield Opened, Economic Benefits Noted But No Increase in Problem Gambling DetectedTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

The opening of MGM Springfield – the first resort-style casino in the state – stimulated the local and statewide economy and enhanced job and educational opportunities for a diverse workforce while not resulting in any increase in the rate of problem gambling or at-risk gamblers.

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Recent Atlantic Ocean Warming Unprecedented in Nearly 3,000 Years

Subhead: UMass Amherst, Canadian research uses ancient lake sediments to extend climate recordContact Name: Francois LapointeContact Email: flapointe@umass.eduOctober 14, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Taking advantage of unique properties of sediments from the bottom of Sawtooth Lake in the Canadian High Arctic, climate scientists have extended the record of Atlantic sea-surface temperature from about 100 to 2,900 years, and it shows that the warmest interval over this period has been the past 10 years.

A team led by Francois Lapointe and Raymond Bradley in the Climate System Research Center of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Pierre Francus at University of Québec-INRS analyzed “perfectly preserved” annual layers of sediment that accumulated in the lake on northern Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, which contain titanium left over from centuries of rock weathering. By measuring the titanium concentration in the different layers, scientists can estimate the relative temperature and atmospheric pressure over time.

The newly extended record shows that the coldest temperatures were found between about 1400-1600 A.D., and the warmest interval occurred during just the past decade, the authors report. Francus adds, “Our unique data set constitutes the first reconstruction of Atlantic sea surface temperatures spanning the last 3,000 years and this will allow climatologists to better understand the mechanisms behind long-term changes in the behavior of the Atlantic Ocean.”

When temperatures are cool over the North Atlantic, a relatively low atmospheric pressure pattern is found over much of the Canadian High Arctic and Greenland. This is associated with slower snow melt in that region and higher titanium levels in the sediments. The opposite is true when the ocean is warmer – atmospheric pressure is higher, snow melt is rapid and the concentration of titanium decreases.

Lapointe says, “Using these strong links, it was possible to reconstruct how Atlantic sea surface temperatures have varied over the past 2,900 years, making it the longest record that is currently available.” Details appear this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers report that their newly reconstructed record is significantly correlated with several other independent sediment records from the Atlantic Ocean ranging from north of Iceland to offshore Venezuela, confirming its reliability as a proxy for the long-term variability of ocean temperatures across a broad swath of the Atlantic. The record is also similar to European temperatures over the past 2,000 years, they point out.

Fluctuations in sea surface temperatures, known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), are also linked to other major climatic upheavals such as droughts in North America and the severity of hurricanes. However, because measurements of sea surface temperatures only go back a century or so, the exact length and variability of the AMO cycle has been poorly understood.

Climate warming in the Arctic is now twice or three times faster than the rest of the planet because of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, warming can be amplified or dampened by natural climate variability, such as changes in the surface temperature of the North Atlantic, which appear to vary over cycles of about 60-80 years.

Lapointe, who has carried out extensive fieldwork in the Canadian Arctic over the past decade, notes that “It has been common in recent summers for atmospheric high-pressure systems – clear-sky conditions – to prevail over the region. Maximum temperatures often reached 20 degrees Celsius, 68 degrees Fahrenheit, for many successive days or even weeks, as in 2019. This has had irreversible impacts on snow cover, glaciers and ice caps, and permafrost.”

Bradley adds that, “The surface waters of the Atlantic have been consistently warm since about 1995. We don’t know if conditions will shift towards a cooler phase any time soon, which would give some relief for the accelerated Arctic warming. But if the Atlantic warming continues, atmospheric conditions favoring more severe melting of Canadian Arctic ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet can be expected in the coming decades.”

In 2019, Greenland Ice Sheet lost more than 500 billion tons of mass, a record, and this was associated with unprecedented, persistent high pressure atmospheric conditions.”

Lapointe notes, “Conditions like this are currently not properly captured by global climate models, underestimating the potential impacts of future warming in Arctic regions.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Recent Atlantic Ocean Warming Unprecedented in Nearly 3,000 YearsNewsletter Headline: Recent Atlantic Ocean Warming Unprecedented in Nearly 3,000 YearsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Taking advantage of unique properties of sediments from the bottom of Sawtooth Lake in the Canadian High Arctic, climate scientists, Francois Lapointe and Raymond Bradley, have extended the record of Atlantic sea-surface temperature from about 100 to 2,900 years, and it shows that the warmest interval over this period has been the past 10 years.

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UMass Amherst SEIGMA Researchers to Present Reports on MGM Springfield’s Community Impacts

Subhead: 2020 Public Research Day Webinar open to publicContact Name: Patty ShillingtonContact Email: pshillington@umass.eduOctober 13, 2020

*** MEDIA ADVISORY ***

DATE:           Wednesday, Oct. 14

TIME:            10 a.m.- 12 noon

WHAT:          2020 Public Research Day Webinar – Springfield’s Two Years as a Casino Host: Looking Back and Looking Forward

WHERE:       Register Here for the Free Public Event on Zoom

Researchers with the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) study, based at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, will present reports about the impacts of MGM Springfield two years after the resort-casino opened.

The webinar will feature findings from surveys of MGM Springfield employees, casino patrons and Springfield residents. The social and economic impacts of MGM Springfield will be detailed, including the casino’s effects on gambling attitudes and problem gambling.

The new findings are part of an unprecedented, comprehensive investigation into the effects of introducing casino gambling into the state. In 2013, the Massachusetts Gaming Commissionchose the SEIGMA team, which includes the UMass Donahue Institute, to carry out the robust research agenda mandated by the 2011 Expanded Gaming Act.

Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in MassachusettsThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst SEIGMA Researchers to Present Reports on MGM Springfield’s Community ImpactsNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst SEIGMA Researchers to Present Reports on MGM Springfield’s Community ImpactsTag Review: Tags have been reviewedRelated Tags: Gateway Thumbnail: 

Kasanka Baboon Project Marks 10 Years Studying Kinda Baboons and Providing Educational Opportunities to Rural Zambian Community

Subhead: Organization founded and led by UMass Amherst researcher Anna Weyher has not only found distinctive social behaviors among the primates, but also helped change the lives of local womenContact Name: Anna WeyherContact Email: aweyher@umass.eduOctober 8, 2020

Ten years after anthropologist Anna Weyher started the Kasanka Baboon Project in Zambia, the program has become much more than a groundbreaking primate research program. Not only has the project led to revelatory observations about Kinda baboons, but it has also provided educational opportunities to young women in the villages near the 150-square mile Kasanka National Park and an increased awareness of the native wildlife and ecosystem among the members of the surrounding communities.

Until the launch of the project in 2010, when Weyher received a Fulbright Scholarship while earning her Master’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis, the behavior of the Kinda baboon (Papio kindae) had not been studied in the wild. Kinda baboons, smaller and more slender than other baboons, live in Angola and southern Democratic Republic of Congo, in addition to Zambia. Through the project, Weyher, now a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has helped catalog a number of previously unknown details about the docile Kindas. Her published findings from the last decade include discoveries regarding the primates’ sexual selection, male-female grooming patterns, dominance and migration among males, seasonal variation in diet and ranging patterns and paternity and friendships.

“Typically, male baboons mostly pay attention to females when they’re sexually receptive and it’s the females that are really bonded together, spending a lot of time grooming and socializing with other females and their infants,” Weyher says. “When females are born into a group they inherit the rank of their mother and they stay within that group throughout their lives, and when males reach sexual maturity they leave to join another group.

“What we’ve seen with Kindas is kind of a complete opposite – the rank system in males is a little bit more fluid. When males join our group they come in from the bottom and kind of queue up; they make friends with the lowest ranking females and males are doing the majority of the grooming with females. And all of this is really fascinating: these male Kindas are staying in relationships with these females for multiple years all through all reproductive cycles the males are doing the majority of the grooming, we’re seeing much more female mate choice and there is a lot of reduced aggression between males. The males spend all this time grooming and they hold infants and it's almost like a different mating strategy – sort of playing the long game.”

Over the past decade, Weyher has been able to track the generational growth of the Kinda communities she’s studied through DNA sampling. “In the last few years several females that were born into the group before the project started have matured and are now having their own infants, so that’s pretty spectacular,” she says.

Weyher says that poaching and habitat loss are a significant problem in Zambia, and an extreme threat to the wildlife, including the Kindas. The Kasanka Baboon Project is the only permanent research project in the park, and since the onset of the project, Weyher and her colleagues have been helping park officials with their anti-poaching efforts by walking through the vulnerable habitat daily. Research conducted by the park shows that the presence of the project’s camp has helped push the poachers out of the central area, and data has shown fewer snares and gunshots have been reported in the area since the project started in 2010.

“Baboons in this part of Zambia are poached for meat, witchcraft and traditional medicines, so by creating a kind of community aspect to what we do and with our scouts’ constant boots on the ground we’ve been able to play a role in the regional anti-poaching efforts.”

Weyher has used the project to create a lasting impact in the local community surrounding the Kasanka National Park, as well.

“I come from a family of strong women,” she says, “seeing the support my mom and my grandmother provided and being involved in organizations where women help women, so a main goal from this project was I wanted to start a scholarship program for girls to be able to go to high school and beyond.”

In 2012, Weyher established the Sarah Darlene Hogle Scholarship Fund in memory of her friend who died in 2005. The scholarship provides funding to send female students from the area to complete grades 10-12. On average it costs about $700 per year to send a student to high school in Zambia, which includes room and board, tuition, uniforms, books and school supplies, and transportation to and from boarding school during holiday breaks. To date, the scholarship has helped five young women complete their secondary education.

Weyher has also used the project to launch the Girls Science Club, which meets twice weekly at the Kasanka Conservation Centre to improve local girls’ science, math and English skills, while teaching them about conservation and providing life skills, such as first aid and computer ability.

Additionally, the project has raised funds to purchase needed science equipment and textbooks for the local basic schools, and visits the schools to give presentations on Kinda baboons, the project’s research and wildlife conservation.

Now a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the project relies on donations to support its research and educational outreach.

“There have been years when I've only been able to fund the project from fundraising,” Weyher says. “We’ve done fundraising events and some crowdfunding before, and every little bit we receive from donations helps.

While Weyher remains in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, the on-site project manager and scout follow the baboons 20 days per month to continue to collect data. The project manager also spends at least five days a month actively running the project’s community endeavors.

Weyher is optimistic about the project’s future, post-pandemic, though. “Finally in the last like six-plus months I’ve asked some other people to join me,” she says. “Now a PhD student who did her work with me in 2017 has joined on, and my advisor at UMass, Jason Kamilar, and a couple other colleagues will hopefully help with writing grants, as well, so the hope is that we’ll be a long-term site for a really long time.”

More information about Weyher and the Kasanka Baboon Project, and a link to donate to then project, can be found at kasankababoonproject.com. “Zambia’s Peaceful Primates,” a 2018 episode of the Smithsonian Channel program “Guardians of the Wild” focusing on Weyher and the project, can be viewed on the Smithsonian Channel’s website.

Kasanka Baboon ProjectThumbnail: Image layout: SlideshowGateway Headline: Kasanka Baboon Project Marks 10 Years Studying Kinda Baboons and Providing Educational Opportunities to Rural Zambian CommunityNewsletter Headline: Kasanka Baboon Project Marks 10 Years Studying Kinda Baboons and Providing Educational Opportunities to Rural Zambian CommunityTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Ten years after anthropologist Anna Weyher started the Kasanka Baboon Project in Zambia, the program has become much more than a groundbreaking primate research program. Not only has the project led to revelatory observations about Kinda baboons, but it has also provided educational opportunities to young women in the villages near the 150-square mile Kasanka National Park and an increased awareness of the native wildlife and ecosystem among the members of the surrounding communities.

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Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi Research

Subhead: A collaboration with the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Contact Name: Li-Jun MaContact Email: lijun@biochem.umass.eduOctober 7, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Professor Li-Jun Ma, biochemistry and molecular biology, has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) Community Science Program (CSP) to conduct in-depth research on a group of soil fungi, Fusaria, that are economically important because they devastate crops – not only food but biofuel feedstocks. This is a collaborative project between principal investigator Ma and co-principal investigator Robert Proctor, a research microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization.

Ma says that two of the top 10 plant pathogens are in the Fusarium family, based on a ranking by many molecular plant pathologists. For these new investigations, she will collaborate with Igor Grigoriev and his team at the Joint Genome Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Other collaborators include evolutionary biologist David Geiser, director of the Fusarium Research Center at Penn State University; Kerry O’Donnell, an expert on taxonomy and biological diversity of Fusarium; and Daren Brown, who has more than 20 years of experience in Fusarium research.

She says of the honor and opportunity, “This is an exciting project. I’m honored by this award and I always appreciate the consistent and reliable support from JGI to the research community.”

The JGI CSP program provides the scientific community with access to high-throughput, high-quality sequencing, DNA synthesis, metabolomics and analysis capabilities that they might not otherwise have access to. For this project, JGI will allocate technical infrastructure support, such as characterizing 124 fungal samples via next-generation, long-read DNA and RNA sequencing techniques, according to the institute.

DOE also points out that “because of their associations with plants, Fusarium species (fusaria) can profoundly impact ‘bioenergy’ production and global ‘carbon cycling.’ The great genetic diversity of the genus is also reflected in their genomes and there is a great interest in understanding the dynamics of Fusarium genomes and their impacts on the host-plant interactions.”

This funded project has two major components. One is to produce 50 high-quality genome assemblies that span the diversity in the genus. “I’m happy that the scope of the project covers the whole genus.” Further, the scientists will also explore the functional impact of genome dynamics on Fusarium-plant interactions by investigating 96 transcription factors identified in Fusarium oxysporum using DNA affinity purified sequencing (DAP-seq) and single cell RNAseq of three carefully selected samples. “I am excited by the opportunity to address some knowledge gaps using functional data to probe host-fungal interactions,” Ma says.

This project is based on a system developed at the Ma lab enabling the dissection of interaction between Fusarium and plants in both harmful and beneficent ways. Ma explains that another facet of this work will involve isolating individual plant cells and sequencing each cell separately, which is a cutting-edge and highly informative technique not easily used in non-human biology studies. Through network analysis, researchers will be able to “capture the action” and characterize patterns of temporal and spatial fungal-plant interactions. One goal of this research is to seek ways to intervene to prevent the plant’s death, specifically to prevent the loss of plant-based biofuel feedstocks.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi ResearchNewsletter Headline: Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi ResearchTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Professor Li-Jun Ma, biochemistry and molecular biology, has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) Community Science Program (CSP) to conduct in-depth research on a group of soil fungi, Fusaria, that are economically important because they devastate crops – not only food but biofuel feedstocks. This is a collaborative project between principal investigator Ma and co-principal investigator Robert Proctor, a research microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization.

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School of Public Policy Team Studying Socioeconomic Effects of COVID-19

October 6, 2020

School of Public Policy (SPP) student Madeline Leue, 2020 alumna Elizabeth Murphy and Marta Vicarelli, assistant professor in SPP and the department of economics, are collaborating on a research project that tackles one of the most pressing issues of the day: the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on women.

The study, “Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 in US Households,” utilizes an extensive survey that asks about respondents’ financial, physical and mental health, as well as the effects that school and daycare closures have had on their work and family lives.

“It felt really important to get these measures while they were timely,” said Leue, a student in SPP’s master of public policy and administration program. “We’re at the beginning of an unstudied chapter of American history. We wanted to take a look at how people were being affected and how that varied by gender and race and socioeconomic factors and to get some good measures early in the pandemic.”

The study developed from a project that Leue and Murphy did last spring in SPP’s Public Policy Workshop course, taught by Vicarelli. Working with the nonprofit Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, they conducted a survey on the factors that keep women in the region unemployed or underemployed, such as limited access to transportation or to quality, affordable childcare and eldercare.

The students decided to continue their research into the summer, as an independent study project with Vicarelli. The new project takes into account the effects of the pandemic, with the goal of helping to create policy that addresses the emerging needs of women and families. Meredith Canada, a doctoral student at Indiana University, helped with the survey, and Yu Ya Htut Tin, a UMass undergraduate economics and math major, and Yash Tyagi, a recent graduate of the Isenberg School of Management, are assisting with the project. The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts is supporting the work by disseminating the survey through its national network.

The survey includes questions about respondents’ employment status, the effects of COVID-19 on their financial situation, their physical and mental health, access to school or daycare for their children, and food security, among other topics. While the study is especially concerned with the effects on women, the survey is not restricted to people who identify as women.

The project will collect data at the national level and will include a component that focuses specifically on Massachusetts. “The results of this investigation may provide policy recommendations for contingency plans or resilience plans in Massachusetts,” Vicarelli said. “Everything we rely on in terms of socio-economic risks analysis and mitigation strategies are from a pre-COVID world. Policy guidelines do not align with the current conditions. In order to develop effective resilience plans, it is imperative to collect new data and to do it fast.”

The project has personal resonance for Murphy, Leue and Vicarelli, all of whom have young children and have had to balance increased family needs with their work. “As we’re doing our literature review and reading about women’s experiences during this pandemic, we are living this project,” Murphy said. “It’s very, very relatable to us to have schools closed and daycares closed with limited options. … It’s research that we really care about, and it’s really close to home at this moment in time.”

Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 on US Householdssurvey: https://umassamherst.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cGC8QJ2tezs25PT

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School of Public Policy (SPP) student Madeline Leue, 2020 alumna Elizabeth Murphy and Marta Vicarelli, assistant professor in SPP and the department of economics, are collaborating on a research project that tackles one of the most pressing issues of the day: the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on women.

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Research Identifies Sperm Biomarker Associated with Couples’ Pregnancy Probability

Subhead: UMass Amherst scientists say discovery could lead to better diagnosis of male infertilityContact Name: Richard PilsnerContact Email: rpilsner@schoolph.umass.eduOctober 6, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have identified a single-measure biomarker in sperm mitochondrial DNA that may predict male reproductive health and pregnancy success.

The discovery applies not just to couples seeking care for infertility but also for the general population. This biomarker could become a more accurate predictor of male infertility than semen parameters, on which health care organizations and clinicians have long relied.

“Clinically, the diagnosis of male infertility really hasn’t changed in decades,” says UMass Amherst environmental epigeneticist Richard Pilsner, corresponding author of the study published today, Oct. 6, in the journal Human Reproduction. “In the last 10 to 20 years, there have been major advances in the understanding of the molecular and cellular functions of sperm, but the clinical diagnosis hasn’t changed or caught up.”

In addition to Pilsner, the team of UMass researchers included lead author Allyson Rosati, who wrote the paper as part of her undergraduate honors thesis and recently completed a master’s in molecular and cellular biology; and Brian Whitcomb, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. They collaborated with reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist Germaine Buck Louis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University, and Sunni Mumford and Enrique Schisterman at the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

“This project is a really nice example of interdisciplinary work and team science,” Whitcomb says. “This research required measurement of biomarkers in the laboratory combined with statistical modeling. Answering scientific questions like this one benefits from a broad range of expertise.”

Mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited, and sperm mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn) typically decreases eight-to-10 fold during spermatogenesis to ensure that it is low upon fertilization. In previous research by Pilsner, Whitcomb and others, increased mtDNAcn and mitochondrial DNA deletions (mtDNAdel) were associated with decreased semen quality and lower odds of fertilization in men seeking fertility treatment.

“The logical next step was to determine if the associations between sperm mitochondrial biomarkers and fertilization among couples seeking infertility treatment could be extended to couples from the general population,” Pilsner says.

The researchers accessed sperm samples from the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) study, which recruited 501 couples from Michigan and Texas from 2005 to 2009 to examine the relationships between lifestyle, including environmental chemicals, and human fertility.

They assessed sperm mtDNAcn and mtDNAdel from 384 semen samples and analyzed their association with the probability of pregnancy within one year. They found that men with higher sperm mtDNAcn had as much as 50% lower odds of cycle-specific pregnancy and 18% lower probability of pregnancy within 12 months.

“Remarkably, we saw a strong inverse association between sperm mitochondrial biomarkers and couples’ time-to-pregnancy,” Pilsner says.

Adds Whitcomb, “Mitochondrial DNA in sperm seems to reflect some underlying physiological phenomenon that affects sperm function.”

More research is needed to further examine the impact of changes in mtDNAcn and mtDNAdel, which may result from defective mitochondria or damaged mtDNA. “We need to take advantage of our understanding of the molecular toolkit that we have to develop a better predictor of male fertility, as well as fecundability,” Pilsner says.

A next step is to examine the factors mediating the changes in sperm mitochondrial DNA. They could include environmental toxins or other causes of inflammation and oxidative stress, the scientists hypothesize.

“Understanding what is causing the retention of mitochondrial copy number during spermatogenesis will help us come up with better platforms to intervene and to promote better reproductive success,” Pilsner says.

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Researchers at have identified a single-measure biomarker in sperm mitochondrial DNA that may predict male reproductive health and pregnancy success.

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Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi Research

October 2, 2020

Professor Li-Jun Ma, biochemistry and molecular biology, has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) Community Science Program (CSP) to conduct in-depth research on a group of soil fungi, Fusaria, that are economically important because they devastate crops – not only food but biofuel feedstocks. This is a collaborative project between principal investigator Ma and co-principal investigator Robert Proctor, a research microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization.

Ma says that two of the top 10 plant pathogens are in the Fusariumfamily, based on a ranking by many molecular plant pathologists. For these new investigations, she will collaborate with Igor Grigoriev and his team at the Joint Genome Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Other collaborators include evolutionary biologist David Geiser,director of the Fusarium Research Center at Penn State University; Kerry O’Donnell, an expert on taxonomy and biological diversity of Fusarium; and Daren Brown, who has more than 20 years of experience in Fusarium research.

She says of the honor and opportunity, “This is an exciting project. I’m honored by this award and I always appreciate the consistent and reliable support from JGI to the research community.”

The JGI CSP program provides the scientific community with access to high-throughput, high-quality sequencing, DNA synthesis, metabolomics and analysis capabilities that they might not otherwise have access to. For this project, JGI will allocate technical infrastructure support, such as characterizing 124 fungal samples via next-generation, long-read DNA and RNA sequencing techniques, according to the institute.

DOE also points out that “because of their associations with plants, Fusariumspecies (fusaria) can profoundly impact ‘bioenergy’ production and global ‘carbon cycling.’ The great genetic diversity of the genus is also reflected in their genomes and there is a great interest in understanding the dynamics of Fusariumgenomes and their impacts on the host-plant interactions.”

This funded project has two major components. One is to produce 50 high-quality genome assemblies that span the diversity in the genus. “I’m happy that the scope of the project covers the whole genus.” Further, the scientists will also explore the functional impact of genome dynamics on Fusarium-plant interactions by investigating 96 transcription factors identified in Fusarium oxysporum using DNA affinity purified sequencing (DAP-seq) and single cell RNAseq of three carefully selected samples. “I am excited by the opportunity to address some knowledge gaps using functional data to probe host-fungal interactions,” Ma says.

This project is based on a system developed at the Ma lab enabling the dissection of interaction between Fusarium and plants in both harmful and beneficent ways. Ma explains that another facet of this work will involve isolating individual plant cells and sequencing each cell separately, which is a cutting-edge and highly informative technique not easily used in non-human biology studies. Through network analysis, researchers will be able to “capture the action” and characterize patterns of temporal and spatial fungal-plant interactions. One goal of this research is to seek ways to intervene to prevent the plant’s death, specifically to prevent the loss of plant-based biofuel feedstocks.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi ResearchNewsletter Headline: Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi ResearchTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Professor Li-Jun Ma, biochemistry and molecular biology, has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute Community Science Program to conduct in-depth research on a group of soil fungi, Fusaria, that are economically important because they devastate crops.

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UMass Amherst Researchers Provide Weather Alerting Technology for Successful NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Demonstration Flight in Texas

Contact Name: Apoorva BajajContact Email: bajaj@ecs.umass.eduSeptember 30, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Researchers at the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) contributed to a recent successful joint demonstration in Fort Worth, Texas, of an unmanned aircraft system by Bell Textron Inc. and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The CASA team provided an intuitive, integrated display to give remote pilots of the Bell Autonomous Pod Transport 70 (APT 70) enhanced weather risk awareness, including weather data from CASA’s X-band radar network, which is deployed in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. CASA was named a collaborative partner on the project in 2018.

“Weather poses a significant challenge to unmanned aircraft systems, especially in large cities, where aircraft will take off and land from vertiports and rooftops within the urban landscape, close to where people work and live. Our efforts focused on integrating weather data from multiple sources and alerting the pilots about potential weather hazards along the route,” said Apoorva Bajaj, CASA’s innovation manager, who is leading the efforts to establish an Urban Aviation Weather Test Bed in the Dallas – Fort Worth area.

CASA’s weather hazard alerting platform, known as CityWarn, was developed using grants from the Partnerships for Innovation and the Hazards and Disasters programs at the National Science Foundation. Brenda Philips, co-Director of CASA and research faculty in Electrical and Computer Engineering is the principal investigator on these grants. “CityWarn is currently being used to send personalized severe weather alerts to emergency managers and the general public. For this NASA project, we expanded its capabilities to provide alerts based on the planned route of a drone flight.”

The objective of Bell’s SIO demonstration was to execute a Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) mission in an urban environment transitioning into and out of Class B airspace representing future commercial flights. Mission results will be used to evaluate and demonstrate Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies for use in future certified operations in controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Data collected during the demonstration will be used to support future standards development and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification guidelines.

The diversity of low-altitude operations is ever increasing with applications such as package and medical supplies delivery by drones and manned and unmanned air taxis to address urban mobility being developed and demonstrated by commercial firms and universities and supported through NASA and FAA. Many of these operations will take place 500-1,500 feet above ground level, putting them in a zone currently underserved by existing weather surveillance systems that have been designed primarily to support manned operations at higher altitudes for most parts of the country. CASA’s X-band radars have specifically been designed to fill low-altitude gaps in weather surveillance, making them ideal to minimize operational risks associated with quickly developing thunderstorms.

“We combine the data from our radars with data from government radars, ground-based weather stations and forecast models to determine the location and timing of weather hazards, and use cloud computing resources to quickly determine the threat to planned operations”, said Eric Lyons, research fellow and one of the chief software architects of the system.

On Monday, the APT 70 launched from Bell’s Floyd Carlson Field in Fort Worth, Texas, and flew a preprogrammed 10-mile circuit path along the Trinity River. Once armed from the ground control station, the APT 70 initiated a vertical takeoff. The vehicle then rotated to fly on its wings where it became nearly silent to the ground below. The vehicle executed its mission profile at an altitude of 500 feet above ground level. The route included a road crossing and transition in and out of Class B airspace. Communication between the ground station and the aircraft was maintained through a redundant datalink.

In addition to visual observers, a prototype airborne detect and avoid system provided the remote pilot with awareness of air traffic in the vicinity and recommended flight maneuvers, while CityWarn monitored weather threats.

In the future, Bell envisions an operational APT 70 that can provide efficient and rapid transport of payloads up to 70 pounds. The APT 70 is estimated to move three times faster than ground transportation, and its many potential uses include third-party logistics, offshore delivery and humanitarian and medical deliveries.

 

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Researchers Provide Weather Alerting Technology for Successful NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Demonstration Flight in TexasNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Researchers Provide Weather Alerting Technology for Successful NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Demonstration Flight in TexasTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Researchers at the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) contributed to a recent successful joint demonstration in Fort Worth, Texas, of an unmanned aircraft system by Bell Textron Inc. and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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Zhang to Investigate Burdens of Multimorbidity in Nursing Home Residents with Obesity

September 29, 2020

Ning Zhang, assistant professor of health promotion and policy, has received a two-year, $181,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to investigate the burdens of multimorbidity on hospitalization and mortality in nursing home residents with obesity.

Like Americans of all ages, nursing home residents suffer increasingly from obesity, which develops frequently in the presence of other chronic conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers. Compared to those with normal weight, residents with obesity experience more pain with activity, and typically have more difficulty rising from a chair, walking and maintaining balance.

“Care providers in nursing homes increasingly face the prospect of simultaneously managing multiple chronic conditions and functional limitations among these residents,” says Zhang. “This places a tremendous burden on nursing home staff, who must manage multiple medications and their potential interactions, rehabilitation services and schedules, diet, and more.”

Constellations, or groupings of multiple chronic conditions, are common among both the elderly and individuals with obesity, and places individuals at much higher risk of hospitalization and mortality. Using national Minimum Data Set (MDS) and Medicare Provider Analysis and Review (MedPAR) files, Zhang hopes to characterize constellations of multimorbidity and to identify the most common concurrent conditions. Zhang will also assess the impact of constellations of multimorbidity on death and hospitalization among nursing home residents with obesity.

“We don’t yet fully understand the epidemiology of multiple chronic conditions,” says Zhang, noting that current research on the topic is limited. “By examining the constellations of conditions that are most prevalent and most important we hope to identify who is at risk of preventable hospitalization and of mortality.”

The study results, she hopes, will support clinicians and allow for targeted interventions to improve care to individuals in high-risk groups. She says, “As the population grows older and more individuals come to rely on nursing home care, it becomes more important to find ways to provide clinical interventions that will ease the burdens that multimorbidity creates for residents, caretaker

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Ning Zhang, assistant professor of health promotion and policy, has received a two-year, $181,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to investigate the burdens of multimorbidity on hospitalization and mortality in nursing home residents with obesity.

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UMass Amherst Astronomy Opens Elite Telescope to U.S. Institutions

Subhead: Large Millimeter Telescope, joint project with Mexico, gets grant to share time, expertiseContact Name: Peter SchloerbContact Email: schloerb@umass.eduSeptember 28, 2020

Astronomers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are marking an especially meaningful event this National Astronomy Week, as a team led by Professor Peter Schloerb recently received a three-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to provide support for the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico and to offer – for the first time – access to it for astronomers from any U.S. institution.

Schloerb says, “The LMT is a unique facility that has had an important impact on astronomical research, including, most recently, as a key station in the network that produced the first-ever image of a black hole. The U.S. astronomy community identified access to telescopes like the LMT as a priority in the 2010 Decadal Survey of Astronomy. UMass Amherst now leads the effort to provide this to all U.S. astronomers.”

He adds, “This is an exciting time for the LMT. We have a suite of new instruments coming online which will further enhance the telescope’s ability to deliver strong scientific results. Enabling the U.S. community to use the telescope has always been an important goal for our group, and we’re very glad to be in a leadership role on this with our partners in this new project.” 

Those partners are the University of Maryland, College Park in the United States, and the Consejo Nacional de Ciecia y Tecnología (CONACyT) and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) in Mexico.

The LMT is a 50-meter diameter radio telescope built througha collaboration of UMass Amherst and Mexico. It is located in the state of Puebla atop a 15,000-foot peak and is the largest telescope of its type in the world. Building it was the largest science project in Mexican history, Schloerb recalls. It is closed during the pandemic, but will re-open once the COVID-19 situation improves in Mexico, he adds.

U.S. astronomers will be able to submit proposals for access to 15 percent of the LMT observing time, Schloerb says. “They will also benefit from having LMT’s trained staff available to conduct the observations and help users turn their raw telescope data into useful scientific products. The new NSF funding will allow us to upgrade LMT services to a level you’d expect from one of our national observatories.”

Specifically, as co-principal investigator Grant Wilson explains, “We’ll have new software writers on board from the University of Maryland, where they have senior-level expertise in software development for millimeter-wave astronomy.” 

Wilson adds, “Software is a critical need; often the first question a researcher asks after observing is, ‘How do I process the data?’ We’ll help users in all ways from writing a sensible proposal, to observing support and with data analysis to help them get to science-ready data products.”  Two other co-principal investigators on the new grant are UMass Amherst astronomers Min Yun and Alexandra Pope.

The new LMT program also capitalizes on the U.S. partnership with the ALMA interferometer in Chile, which Wilson says is “fantastic for doing high-resolution studies of dust and gas, but not good at making big images that help people understand the environment where the objects exist. It’s like studying a home without knowing anything about the neighborhood – is it urban or rural? – that makes a big difference.”

Further, he points out, “Astronomers want to know what the history of the neighborhood is, and what might it do next. LMT has the ability to provide a baseline hand-in-hand with ALMA to provide this level of specificity and detail.”

More about the Large Millimeter TelescopeThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Astronomy Opens Elite Telescope to U.S. InstitutionsNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Astronomy Opens Elite Telescope to U.S. InstitutionsTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Astronomers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are marking an especially meaningful event this National Astronomy Week, as a team led by Professor Peter Schloerb recently received a three-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to provide support for the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico and to offer – for the first time – access to it for astronomers from any U.S. institution.

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A New Twist on Public Health Tick Surveillance

Subhead: UMass Amherst scientists to capture the outdoor locations of people with Lyme disease and other tick-borne infectionsContact Name: Andrew LoverContact Email: alover@umass.eduSeptember 24, 2020

A University of Massachusetts Amherst infectious disease epidemiologist has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a new surveillance method to better identify specific locations with the highest risk for tick-borne disease transmission.

Existing surveillance programs focus on large geographic areas and involve laborious efforts to trap and count ticks. “Instead of looking for the ticks, we want to focus on the people who have tick-borne disease, then talk to them about their recent activities and capture their use of outdoor spaces using GPS data loggers to help us find out where they may have been exposed,” says Andrew Lover, assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology. “We’re trying to develop a whole new way to do tick surveillance that’s focused on people instead of the ticks, is economically efficient and, most importantly, sustainable.”

His study will be funded by a two-year, $427,043 grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Lover and his team, including graduate students Teah Snyder and Johanna Ravenhurst, will work with co-investigator Stephen Rich, professor of microbiology and director of TickReport, a UMass Amherst service that allows people to mail in ticks and find out if the ticks carry any disease-causing microbes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 300,000 people in the U.S., primarily in the Northeast and Midwest, get Lyme disease each year. Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferiand transmitted to humans via deer ticks, Lyme disease and other infections transmitted by ticks “are major and emerging public health threats,” Lover says.

The researchers will enroll study participants through UMass Amherst’s University Health Services and Cooley Dickinson Health Care. One group will have a confirmed tick-borne disease, and a second group with no such disease will serve as the control. Both groups will be interviewed and given GPS data loggers to carry for two weeks during their regular outdoor activities.

These data will help the researchers pinpoint specific areas where most of the local tick-borne disease transmission seems to be occurring. “There is this idea that 80% of disease transmission happens in 20% of locations – so a small number of areas can be responsible for the vast majority of infections,” Lover says.

Lover and his team will perform comprehensive tick surveys in areas that their data suggest have very high and very low risk. In his Laboratory of Medical Zoology, home of the TickReport program, Rich and colleagues will test these ticks for a range of pathogens. 

“We will compare tick abundance and pathogen prevalence between sites to validate results from the spatial analyses,” Lover explains.

Once identified, the locations with the highest risk can be targeted for intensive interventions, such as clearing overhanging vegetation, landscaping with wood chips or marking the location with specific signage to alert people. Lover says if the study proves successful, the surveillance method will be shared with other communities in Massachusetts and beyond, where tick-borne diseases are prevalent.

“Our findings will dramatically expand our ability to directly and efficiently target the limited resources available for surveillance and interventions to spaces where they will have the highest impact to address an important public health problem,” Lover says. 

Laboratory of Medical ZoologyThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: A New Twist on Public Health Tick SurveillanceNewsletter Headline: A New Twist on Public Health Tick SurveillanceTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Infectious disease epidemiologist Andrew Lover has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a new surveillance method to better identify specific locations with the highest risk for tick-borne disease transmission.

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Tracking Shape Changes in Amazon Fish After Major River is Dammed

Subhead: Cichlid fishes, able to respond rapidly to environmental change, offer good modelContact Name: R. Craig AlbertsonContact Email: albertson@bio.umass.eduSeptember 24, 2020

A team of biologists led by Craig Albertson and Ph.D. student Chaise Gilbert at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report this week on their comparison between museum collections of cichlid fishes collected before a dam was closed in 1984 on the Tocantins River in the Amazon and contemporary specimens taken from the Tucuruí Reservoir by fishermen 34 years later. 

Working with others in Brazil,  Albertson’s team tested the idea that these fish could be expected to show changes in body shape as a consequence to shifts in habitat and foraging behavior after the dam rapidly changed environmental conditions from a clear, flowing river to a deep, murky reservoir.

“The once-historic rapids and streams that characterized the system have disappeared from the surrounding area, which in turn has affected the abundance and variety of food sources available to native fishes,” they write in Evolutionary Application this week.

Cichlid fishes are known in the scientific world for their ability to alter, in as little as a single season, aspects of body shape to match feeding conditions and other changes in the environment, Albertson says. The skeleton is especially sensitive to such environmental inputs, and studying cichlid fishes offers insights into how organisms, in general, may adapt to major human-induced environmental change.

Using geometric morphometrics, the researchers evaluated changes in six native species – from large fish-eating species to small opportunistic omnivores –across five genera representing distinct local varieties whose body shapes reflect their ecological roles. To accomplish this, the researchers used many specimens from fish inventories collected before the dam closure in 1980-1982 now housed in the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia fish collection, plus even earlier river survey specimens housed now at the Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo.

Albertson explains, “Our overarching hypothesis is that the damming of the Tocantins and subsequent formation of the Tucuruí reservoir has induced shifts in habitat and foraging behavior and that the anatomy of resident cichlid populations has change in ways that allow them to adapt to this novel environmental conditions. This study represents a first step toward assessing this hypothesis.”

Gilbert adds, “Was anything surprising? Yes! While we expected to see changes in generalist species – those that are already predisposed toward living in a variety of habitats – we were surprised to see shape changes in the specialists as well. Evolving to specialize on a particular prey-type or habitat, can provide a competitive advantage in the near term, but it can also be an evolutionary dead end in the face of a major environmental changes.”

Not only are these specialist species still found in the area, but they seem to be just as capable of changing body shape as the generalists, the authors report.

Albertson reports further thatchanges across all species “tended to be associated with functionally relevant aspects of anatomy, including head, fin and body shape.” They found that the regions of the body that changed over time are exactly those most likely to allow them to survive in their new environment, he adds.

Albertson and Gilbert worked with colleagues at Brazil’s Museu Paraense EmílioGoeldi, Belém, and theInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia in Manaus. Funding came from NSF support for the Albertson lab and from the Natural History Collections at UMass Amherst.

Rapid morphological change in multiple cichlid ecotypes following the damming of a major clearwater river in BrazilThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Tracking Shape Changes in Amazon Fish After Major River is DammedNewsletter Headline: Tracking Shape Changes in Amazon Fish After Major River is DammedTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A team of biologists led by Craig Albertson and Ph.D. student Chaise Gilbert at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report this week on their comparison between museum collections of cichlid fishes collected before a dam was closed in 1984 on the Tocantins River in the Amazon and contemporary specimens taken from the Tucuruí Reservoir by fishermen 34 years later.

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Antarctic Ice Loss Expected to Affect Future Climate Change

Subhead: UMass Amherst research simulates dramatic climate impacts from higher Antarctic meltContact Name: Shaina SadaiContact Email: srogstad@geo.umass.eduSeptember 23, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In a new climate modeling study that looked at the impacts of accelerated ice melt from the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) on future climate, a team of climate scientists reports that future ice-sheet melt is expected to have significant effects on global climate.

First author and graduate student Shaina Sadai at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with Alan Condron of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Rob DeConto at UMass Amherst and David Pollard at Pennsylvania State University, present details this week in Science Advances.

Their study predicts how future climate conditions could change under high- and low-greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, while accounting for accelerated melting of the AIS.

Scientists have long recognized that future meltwater input from the Antarctic will affect the Southern Ocean and global climate, but ice-sheet processes are not now included in most state-of-the-art climate prediction simulations, Sadai says. She and colleagues report that their modeling with the added ice melt information reveals interacting processes.

For this work, Sadai’s task was to add accelerated AIS melting and icebergs into simulations of Earth’s future climate. One important step was to include the details of where and when the meltwater will go into the ocean.

She says, “We found that future melt water coming off Antarctica leads to huge amounts of thick sea ice around the continent. With higher greenhouse gas emissions, the ice sheet melts faster, which in turn leads to more freshwater flowing into the ocean and more sea ice production.”

All this additional meltwater and sea ice production dramatically slows the pace of future warming around Antarctica, the researchers report – seemingly welcome news. And remarkably, the climate impacts are not just restricted to the Antarctic. Condron, previously at UMass Amherst, points out that the cooling effects are felt worldwide. But he adds, “All that said, it’s important to note that this is not a global ‘cooling’ scenario – average global temperatures would still be roughly 3 degrees Celsius warmer than today due to human greenhouse gas emissions, even with the cooling effects of this melt water on climate.”

But that is not the end of the story. Even though atmospheric warming slows, the deep sea waters around Antarctica actually warm faster in their model. This is because, Condron explains, the new sea ice stops heat from escaping from the deeper waters to the atmosphere. “The subsurface ocean waters warm by as much as one degree Celsius, which can increase melting below parts of the ice sheet. This could make the ice sheet more unstable and accelerate rates of sea level rise beyond current projections.”

Overall, Sadai says, “Our results demonstrate a need to accurately account for meltwater input from ice sheets if we are to make confident climate predictions.” She emphasizes that the delayed future warming they found in the new simulations may sound like good news, but it is important to keep in mind that serious warming and sea level rise will still occur with unabated greenhouse gas emissions, which will affect coastal communities and ecosystems worldwide.

DeConto and Pollard add that the future stability of the AIS and future sea-level rise will be governed by which process wins out – ocean warming or atmospheric cooling. Answering this question is the target of the team’s ongoing research.

 

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Antarctic Ice Loss Expected to Affect Future Climate ChangeNewsletter Headline: Antarctic Ice Loss Expected to Affect Future Climate ChangeTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

In a new climate modeling study that looked at the impacts of accelerated ice melt from the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) on future climate, a team of climate scientists reports that future ice-sheet melt is expected to have significant effects on global climate.

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