The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Research News

Critically Injured Soldiers Have High Rates of Mental Health Disorders

Subhead: New UMass Amherst study found military members with serious brain injuries are at greater riskContact Name: David ChinContact Phone: 413-545-7429Contact Email: dchin@umass.eduJanuary 28, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – U.S. combat soldiers who suffered a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more likely than soldiers with other serious injuries to experience a range of mental health disorders, according to a new retrospective study by University of Massachusetts Amherst health services researchers.

“A central takeaway is that severe TBI is associated with a greater risk of mental health conditions – not just PTSD,” says lead investigator David Chin, assistant professor of health policy and management in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “Our findings suggest that patients who are critically injured in combat and sustain severe TBI have particularly high rates of mental health disorders.”

The research, published in the journal Military Medicine, is the largest and broadest look at severe combat injury in the military and associated mental health outcomes. Chin and co-author John Zeber, UMass Amherst associate professor and program head of health policy and management, examined the cases of 4,980 military members – most from the Army or Marines – who were severely injured during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011. Nearly a third of them suffered moderate or severe TBI.

Mining data from the U.S. Department of Defense, Chin found that 71% of all the severely injured soldiers were diagnosed in follow-up care with at least one of five mental health conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and mood disorders, adjustment reactions, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, and cognitive disorders. Previous research reported that a much lower 42% of seriously injured combat soldiers went on to be diagnosed with mental health disorders. And Chin notes that his study defined mental health diagnoses more narrowly.

In Chin’s research, diagnoses for every mental health condition were higher among the cases of TBI than other severe injuries.

“Most of the research on TBI has looked at mild to moderate brain injury,” Chin says, with estimated incidence of associated PTSD to be as high as 23% – significantly lower than the 46% incidence Chin’s research noted in cases of more severe TBI.

In addition, Chin found that the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is higher – not lower, as previous investigators have assumed – among combat soldiers with more severe TBI.

“There was a common belief that having a severe TBI resulted in an amnestic effect on PTSD – the injuries were so severe that the patients have no memory of the event and that put them at lower risk of having mental health outcomes. This data showed to the contrary,” Chin says.

In addition to including personnel from all four military service branches, the study followed the soldiers’ care for a median period of more than four years. Earlier studies about TBI in the military typically involved one service branch and only followed the soldiers for one year after the injury.

Even with the longer timeframe, Chin says the study “definitely underestimates” the prevalence of mental health conditions among severely injured soldiers. Among the study’s limitations: researchers had access only to Department of Defense-related records, so researchers were unable to track cases after the soldiers were discharged; and the military culture engenders an underreporting of mental health symptoms.

While Chin emphasizes that more research is necessary, the study illustrates the importance of monitoring the mental health status of seriously injured soldiers, especially those with severe TBI, for years after their injury, and ensuring that clinical and support services are available to veterans and their families.

Release Number: 162-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Critically Injured Soldiers Have High Rates of Mental Health DisordersNewsletter Headline: Critically Injured Soldiers Have High Rates of Mental Health DisordersTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

U.S. combat soldiers who suffered a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more likely than soldiers with other serious injuries to experience a range of mental health disorders, according to a new retrospective study by UMass health services researchers.

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Effects of Contact Between Minority and Majority Groups May Be More Complex than Once Believed

Subhead: UMass Amherst, international team suggest new route to social change, intergroup harmonyContact Name: Linda TroppContact Phone: 413-577-0934Contact Email: tropp@umass.eduJanuary 27, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – For more than 50 years, social scientists and practitioners have suggested that having members of different groups interact with each other can be an effective tool for reducing prejudice. But emerging research points to a more complex and nuanced understanding of the effects of contact between groups, say Linda Tropp at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Tabea Hässler, leader of a multi-national research team based at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

As Tropp explains, studies from the last 10 to 15 years suggest that the positive effects of intergroup contact tend to be weaker among members of historically advantaged groups, such as white people and heterosexuals, compared to the effects typically observed among members of historically disadvantaged groups such as people of color and sexual minorities. There has also been growing concern that contact may effectively reduce prejudice between groups but do little to change existing social inequalities, she adds.

“With our research, we wanted to examine whether and how contact between groups might help to promote support for social change, in pursuit of greater social equality, while also testing whether the effects of contact might vary depending on status relations between the groups and how the relevant variables were measured,” she explains. “So, we embarked on this multi-national study, which included researchers from more than twenty countries around the world, who gathered survey responses from 12,997 individuals across 69 countries.”

The authors highlight that this comprehensive study “makes substantial advances in our understanding of the relation between intergroup contact and social change.” Details appear in Nature Human Behaviour.

The researchers found robust evidence, Tropp says, that when members of historically advantaged groups engage in contact with disadvantaged groups, they are more likely to support social change to promote equality. In contrast, when members of historically disadvantaged groups have contact with advantaged groups, they are generally less likely to support social change to promote equality.

However, the researchers also point out an important exception: “Among both advantaged and disadvantaged groups, contact predicted greater willingness to work in solidarity to achieve greater social equality. Thus, this research may offer a new route to reach social cohesion and social change, such that social harmony would not come at the expense of social justice.”

Tropp, Hässler and their colleagues say their results raise two important questions and directions for future research. First, they ask, “How can positive and intimate contact between groups occur without reducing disadvantaged group members’ support for social change?” Second, “How can support for social change be increased among disadvantaged group members without requiring negative contact experiences?”

They suggest, “Possible answers to both questions may be that advantaged group members who engage in contact should openly acknowledge structural inequalities and express support for efforts by disadvantaged group members to reduce these inequalities,” they conclude.

Release Number: 161-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Effects of Contact Between Minority and Majority Groups May Be More Complex than Once BelievedNewsletter Headline: Effects of Contact Between Minority and Majority Groups May Be More Complex than Once BelievedTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

For more than 50 years, social scientists and practitioners have suggested that having members of different groups interact with each other can be an effective tool for reducing prejudice. But emerging research points to a more complex and nuanced understanding of the effects of contact between groups, say Linda Tropp at UMass and Tabea Hässler, leader of a multi-national research team based at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

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Building a Software Platform to Support Emerging Memory Technologies

January 24, 2020

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $500,000 to professor Eliot Moss of the College of Information and Computer Sciences to build a platform that provides lasting data storage in devices that use non-volatile memory (NVM), such as the flash storage in a phone or a laptop’s solid-state drive.

As Moss explains, NVM stores data even when the power is off, unlike Dynamic RAM (DRAM), which must have a constant power supply to accomplish this. But while flash storage is a popular replacement for hard drive storage, newer and faster NVM technologies are being developed that promise to take the place of not only device storage, but also main memory.

Moss says his research will aid software developers working across a range of programming languages and hardware platforms. Using his proposed “persistence” model, programmers will be able to easily and reliably build applications for devices with NVM that take advantage of built-in support for fast, automatic autosave.

He adds, “We want to be able to help developers exploit NVM.” He imagines new applications for mobile and desktop devices that can scroll back and forth through branching possibilities, that help users imagine, analyze and plan. “The persistence model in programming is about being able to come back to where you were – and then go anywhere you need to go.”

One example of NVM technology that Moss looks forward to helping developers use fully is known as phase-change memory (PCM), which is based on the special semi-conducting properties of chalcogenide glass. It uses brief bursts of heat to switch bits between glassy and crystalline states. PCM is currently 10 to 100 times faster than solid-state drives, coming close to the performance of DRAM, he notes. Using technologies like PCM as a device’s main memory can allow developers to use techniques such as “instant-on” recovery of a user’s progress, he adds, but it’s not as simple as swapping out a bit of hardware to get the new function.

Without more support for NVM at theprogramming language level, as opposed to in the hardware or at the user-interface, theprocessor’s contents – known as registers and caches – would be lost when devices are powered off.

“Just having a hardware capability does not automatically make its features available to programmers, or its advantages available to users,” he explains. This is especially true for programs taking advantage of multicore processors to support multiple concurrent threads, a strategy becoming increasingly popular as applications strive for higher levels of performance. His persistent programming addresses this.

“Without the registers and caches, you end up with memory contents that look like a dog’s breakfast,” explains Moss. “Most of everything is still there, but nothing is very appetizing.”

Moss’s new model will first be built on Mu, a virtual machine for managed languages such as Python or Java. As Moss explains, Mu is lightweight, with approximately 25,000 lines of code compared to approximately 1 million lines of code for Java virtual machines, and it’s designed to work well in environments with dynamic code generation and optimization.

Moss’s was named an ACM Fellow in 2007 and a Fellow of the IEEE in 2010. In 2013, he was co-recipient of the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in Distributed Computing for his work on transactional memory. Moss joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 1985 and currently serves as the director of the Architecture and Language Implementation Laboratory. He received his PhD in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Building a Software Platform to Support Emerging Memory TechnologiesNewsletter Headline: Building a Software Platform to Support Emerging Memory TechnologiesTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $500,000 to professor Eliot Moss of the College of Information and Computer Sciences to build a platform that provides lasting data storage in devices that use non-volatile memory (NVM), such as the flash storage in a phone or a laptop’s solid-state drive.

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I-Corps @ UMass Amherst Upcoming Events and Calls for Applications

January 24, 2020

I-Corps @ UMass Amherst has several upcoming events and calls for applications for its programs to help faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows apply research and technology to real-world problems.

Innovators Warm-Ups: Starting Feb. 3
Dip your toe into the innovation water at one of our 90-minute Innovators Warm-Ups. Learn how the startup approach to innovation and entrepreneurship and I-Corps @ UMass Amherst programs can help you test product ideas from your research or other activities. Researchers do not need an idea to attend and are encouraged to bring others from their labs. Registration is requested and several dates and times are available. This interactive program offers a fun group exercise that will get your innovation muscles warmed up. Completion of an Innovators Warm-Up is required prior to participating in the Innovators Jump-Start.

Innovators Jump-Start: Spring 2020 Cohort
Do you have a technology you think has commercial potential? The Innovators Jump-Start provides hands-on training and help in initial exploration and testing potential customer interest in your technology idea. This program provides the opportunity to gain professional development, broaden the impact of National Science Foundation research and gain access to additional funding. The program runs from March 27 to April 10. Teams can apply beginning Jan. 31.

Innovators Rev-Up
This individualized program is for teams that have completed the Innovators Jump-Start and want to go further. Up to $2,000 per team is available to reimburse expenses. Email Karen Utgoff at kutgoff@umass.edu to apply.

Join the I-Corps @ UMass Amherst email list for more information on these programs.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: I-Corps @ UMass Amherst Upcoming Events and Calls for ApplicationsNewsletter Headline: I-Corps @ UMass Amherst Upcoming Events and Calls for ApplicationsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

I-Corps @ UMass Amherst has several upcoming events and calls for applications for its programs to help faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows apply research and technology to real-world problems.

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New Study Will Investigate Impact of Environmental Exposure on Breast Cancer Risk in Young Women

Subhead: UMass Amherst cancer epidemiologist awarded National Institutes of Health grantContact Name: Susan SturgeonContact Phone: 413-577-1364Contact Email: ssturgeon@schoolph.umass.eduJanuary 23, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – A University of Massachusetts Amherst cancer epidemiologist has received a $462,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand her research into the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the breast density of college-age women. High breast density is a strong risk factor for breast cancer. 

A previous study focusing on older women found that exposure to plasticizers such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), as well as related compounds found in common household and personal care items, can increase breast density. Studies with premenopausal women in Mexico and Canada have noted associations between environmental exposures and breast cancer risk.

Susan Sturgeon, whose research focuses on the epidemiology of hormonally related cancers, hopes the study will shed new light on the suspected link between environmental exposure, breast density and breast cancer risk in young women.

“Breast density in young women may be as strongly associated with subsequent breast cancer risk as mammographic breast density in older women,” says Sturgeon, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

The study will measure the effects of environmental exposure on the breasts of young women “during a window of potential increased susceptibility,” Sturgeon says. Animal studies suggest mammary cells are more susceptible to environmental chemicals during breast development up to and through pregnancy.

“The link between environmental chemicals and breast cancer risk is not clear, and it is challenging to study. Measuring breast density by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) makes this kind of study possible in younger women, eliminating radiation risk from mammography,” Sturgeon says.

Sturgeon will recruit 100 undergraduate female students at UMass Amherst, who have never given birth, for the study, which will be conducted at the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences’ Models to Medicine Center.

Environmental chemical exposure is thought to affect breast density by increasing levels of estrogen and inflammation. Sturgeon and colleagues will measure participants’ urinary levels of BPA, BPS, BPF, seven phthalate metabolites, oxybenzone, four parabens, triclosan, triclocarbon and two other phenols in a pooled urine specimen from 24-hour collections on three spaced days prior to computerized MRI in IALS’ Human Magnetic Resonance Center. The urine collection requires participants to collect all of their urine over a 24-hour period because exposure to these chemicals can vary substantially throughout the day.

 “The study is innovative because of the multiple time-point exposure measurements, the use of the urinary matrix to measure these chemicals and computerized magnetic resonance imaging to measure breast density in young women,” Sturgeon says.

One of the important goals of this grant is to expose students to research, she adds. Both undergraduate and graduate students are involved, including Jennifer Carroll, Hannah Guard, Jessica Daum, Ashley Moineau and Emily Fernandes.

“Working on this study has been an incredible learning experience for me,” says Guard, a junior from Marion, Massachusetts, double-majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, as well as public health. “While working collaboratively with both professors and students, this study has given me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in participant recruitment, data collection and lab work, truly enhancing my educational experience at UMass beyond the classroom.”

Release Number: 159-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: New Study Will Investigate Impact of Environmental Exposure on Breast Cancer Risk in Young WomenNewsletter Headline: New Study Will Investigate Impact of Environmental Exposure on Breast Cancer Risk in Young WomenTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A UMass cancer epidemiologist has received a $462,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand her research into the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the breast density of college-age women. High breast density is a strong risk factor for breast cancer.

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Stinson Receives a 2019 Project of the Year Award

January 22, 2020

Plant ecologist Kristina Stinson, environmental conservation, and her team were recently honored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) with one of its 2019 Project of the Year Awards for Resource Conservation and Resiliency, given at an annual symposium in Washington, D.C.

The agency’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program recognizes “scientific advances and technological solutions to some of DoD’s most significant environmental and installation energy challenges.”

She says, “When we started this project, the technology for sequencing the soil microbiome was just emerging.  We literally had to update our methods section multiple times throughout the proposal-writing process because the techniques were changing so fast. It’s very exciting to have been involved in this research and to have discovered how a small unassuming invasive plant can up-end the identities and abundances of soil fungi and their roles in ecosystem function.”  

DoD’s citation relates that for this study, Stinson with her colleague Serita Frey of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), with others, examined the interactive effects of biological invasion and other global change factors on the diversity of soil fungi of Northeastern forest habitats, with a focus on management implications for forests disrupted by the invasive garlic mustard.

Stinson notes that several graduate students and postdocs were involved in the research, including Mark Anthony of UNH, plus Jason Aylward, Erin Coates-Connor, Adam Trautwig, Michelle Jackson and Julia Wheeler of UMass Amherst.

DoD reports, “The project resulted in significant and important findings. This is the first study to document impacts of garlic mustard on soil microbes with such high molecular resolution and at a broad landscape scale. The research team determined that climatic warming has the potential to promote garlic mustard invasion and negatively impact tree seedling performance.”

As Stinson and Frey explain, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is “a textbook example of a plant that can overwhelm a landscape.” It has rapidly become a problem in North America, forming dense monocultures that allow it to invade forests and threaten native plant community diversity, they point out. Further, it reduces native plant diversity through competition for resources and through the chemical suppression of beneficial fungal symbioses.

For their study, they visited more than 15 New England sites from Boston to the Berkshires and southward into the Catskills of New York, eventually settling on eight with active garlic mustard invasion and with different nitrogen deposition rates. This allowed them to observe landscape-level variation in the soil ecological responses to invasion and eradication.

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Plant ecologist Kristina Stinson, environmental conservation, and her team were recently honored by the U.S. Department of Defense with one of its 2019 Project of the Year Awards for Resource Conservation and Resiliency, given at an annual symposium in Washington, D.C.

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Breastfeeding and Childbearing Linked to Lower Early Menopause Risk

Subhead: UMass Amherst, NIH, Harvard research supports an ovulation-prevention mechanism Contact Name: Christine LangtonContact Phone: 413-545-4603Contact Email: clangton@umass.eduJanuary 22, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Results of a new epidemiological analysis of more than 108,000 women observed a lower risk of early menopause among women who had at least one pregnancy lasting at least six months and among those who had breastfed their infants. Further, risk was lowest among those who breastfed exclusively. The work is by first author and Ph.D. student Christine Langton, with her advisor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

These two factors, pregnancy (parity) and breastfeeding, generally prevent ovulation and may slow the natural depletion of ovarian follicles over time, the authors point out. Thus pregnancy and breastfeeding are believed to lower the risk of early menopause, which is defined as the end of menstruation before age 45. Early menopause is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and osteoporosis. Details appear in the online open-access journal JAMA Network Open.

Langton and colleagues suggest that while their results did not demonstrate a clear dose-response for breastfeeding, their findings are consistent with the hypothesis that a biological mechanism is influenced by longer breastfeeding. Also, findings from other studies support that optimal benefits from breastfeeding exclusively, for both mother and baby, reach a threshold between six and 12 months. Breastfeeding exclusively means that the baby receives no liquids or solid foods, only breast milk.

As Langton explains, “In our study, women with three or more pregnancies who breastfed exclusively for a total of 7 to 12 months had about a 32% lower risk of early menopause compared to women with the same number of children who breastfed exclusively for less than one month.” Langton and colleagues also observed what they call other notable associations. Compared to women with no full-term pregnancies, women who had two pregnancies had a 16% lower risk of early menopause and women with three pregnancies saw a 22% lower risk.

The authors believe theirs is the first prospective cohort study to look at the relationship between breastfeeding and risk of early menopause. They point out that only one other study had examined the relationship of parity (number of children) to risk of early natural menopause.

Langton says, “Our study has a lot of strength because of the large sample size, the 26 years of follow-up and the prospective design. Also, at baseline we limited our study to women who were premenopausal, which is a key point,” she adds, along with their careful control for many confounders.

“Our breastfeeding findings not only add new insight into ways to prevent early menopause,” she points out, “but they align nicely with recommendations of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization that US women exclusively feed their infants breastmilk for at least six months and continue breastfeeding for up to one year,” Langton notes.

For this work, Langton and colleagues conducted their prospective, population-based study within the on-going Nurses’ Health Study II cohort that began collecting data in 1989. They report that response rates were 85-90%. Parity, menopause status and age were measured at baseline and every two years, while breastfeeding factors were assessed three times during follow-up. Women in the study were followed until menopause or age 45, hysterectomy, oophorectomy, death, cancer diagnosis or loss to follow-up.

In addition to Langton and Bertone-Johnson, the research team included Brian Whitcomb, Susan Hankinson and Lynnette Sievert at UMass Amherst, Alexandra Purdue-Smithe, a researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD. They were joined by JoAnn Manson and Bernard Rosner of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The study was sponsored by UM1CA176726 and R01HD078517 from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.

Release Number: 158-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Breastfeeding and Childbearing Linked to Lower Early Menopause RiskNewsletter Headline: Breastfeeding and Childbearing Linked to Lower Early Menopause RiskTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Results of a new epidemiological analysis of more than 108,000 women observed a lower risk of early menopause amongwomen who had at least one pregnancy lasting at least six months and among those who had breastfed their infants. Further, risk was lowest among those who breastfed exclusively. The work is by first author and Ph.D. student Christine Langton, with her advisor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson at the UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

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Jackson and Schweik Awarded by EPA for Salt Marsh Research

January 17, 2020

Scott Jackson, extension associate professor in the department of environmental conservation and Charlie Schweik, professor at the School of Public Policy and the department of environmental conservation, have received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a project that uses unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to develop methods to assess the ecological integrity of Massachusetts salt marshes.

The new $125,000 grant is an extension of a $362,776 award the team received in 2018 for the project. The additional funding will allow the researchers to continue developing the methodologies and to expand their work to more sites on the eastern Massachusetts coast. The project’s goal is to provide environmental managers information on the ecological health of salt marches, including their vulnerability to flooding and their physical and biological condition.

“Salt marshes serve important ecological functions,” Schweik said. “They act as a buffer for coastal land from stormy seas during dramatic weather events like hurricanes, and they provide nesting and shelter for a variety of bird species, among other ecological services. But they are under threat because of sea-level rise and other factors, and understanding these threats is challenging in part because they are such dynamic environments.

“While satellite imagery can provide useful information,” Schweik continued, “they are limited by the fact that researchers have no control over the time of the day when the images are collected. The use of UAS technology allows our team to collect aerial imagery of salt marshes at critical times in the tide cycle on any given day—and across seasons—in an effort to better understand factors that are contributing to salt marsh die-back. That image dataset, coupled with new image analysis techniques, will provide crucial information to coastal land managers and environmental policy makers in Massachusetts and around the world as they work to preserve these important coastal environments.”

Jackson and Schweik are working on the project in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Division of Coastal Zone Management.

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Scott Jackson, extension associate professor in the department of environmental conservation and Charlie Schweik, professor at the School of Public Policy and the department of environmental conservation, have received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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UMass Amherst Geoscientist Receives Fulbright Scholar Award

Subhead: Isaac Larsen will study earth surface dynamics in Austria Contact Name: Isaac LarsenContact Phone: 413-545-0538Contact Email: ilarsen@umass.eduJanuary 16, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Geochemist Isaac Larsen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been granted a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award and will spend the coming spring semester at the University of Salzburg, Austria.

The U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board points out that the program, funded by Congress, awards recipients on the basis of academic and professional achievement, record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields. Larsen is one of over 800 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research and/or provide expertise abroad for the 2019-2020 academic year in over 160 countries.

He will teach graduate courses and conduct research on Earth surface changes using cosmogenic nuclide geochemistry techniques to study erosion rates using sand samples from rivers and river terraces in non-glaciated Alpine landscapes, as well as investigating how they respond to climate change.

Cosmic rays – high energy particles originating in the cosmos – continually bombard the Earth and smash into oxygen atoms and produce a rare cosmogenic isotope called Beryllium 10 (10Be), Larsen explains. “It’s like a person sunbathing,” he says. “The longer you’re exposed, the more you’ll burn.” In the same way, in areas where erosion is rapid there will be shorter exposure and lower 10Be levels, but a grain of sand in an area that is eroding more slowly will have longer exposure and a higher concentration of 10Be. Comparing nuclide measurements in the different samples reveals the rate of erosion in each.

The geomorphologist says this research is planned for about 20 sites on the Bohemian Massif and the Alpine Foreland north of the Alps because there he can collect sand samples from river terraces that remain from the last ice age. “In non-glaciated areas there it was much colder than it is in the present day. It’s been proposed that erosion rates increased globally during the ice age, but that’s controversial,” he points out. “We’re going to try to understand how erosion rates respond to climate change by measuring modern rates and comparing that to samples in river terraces and rivers from those sites.”

Larsen will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Salzburg for these studies. He will bring the Alpine samples back to his UMass Amherst lab for analysis, which involves dissolving sand grains and separating the 10Be so it can be analyzed in an accelerator mass spectrometer that can measure individual atoms. The specialized equipment for this is available in only a few research facilities in the world.

Photo courtesy of Pe Wu/Wiki creative commons
creative commons license       

Release Number: 157-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Geoscientist Receives Fulbright Scholar AwardNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Geoscientist Receives Fulbright Scholar AwardTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Geochemist Isaac Larsen at UMass has been granted a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award and will spend the coming spring semester at the University of Salzburg, Austria.

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Mathematician Nahmod Receives Coveted Simons Foundation Grant

January 15, 2020

Mathematics professor Andrea R. Nahmod has been named a principal investigator for a Simons Foundation Collaboration in Mathematical and Physical Sciences that will involve leading mathematics and physics researchers in the United States and Europe in a systematic, coordinated study of wave turbulence.

The four-year, $8 million grant with possibility of extension is a collaboration directed by Jalal Shatah at the Courant Institute at New York University (NYU).

Nahmod says of the recognition, “It is a huge honor to have been awarded the most prestigious and coveted of the collaborations grant awards given by the Simons Foundation. I am very proud that UMass has been chosen to receive it and that I am a principal investigator on it.”

The researchers explain that waves are found everywhere in nature and are central in describing fundamental physical phenomena at all scales, from quantum mechanics to general relativity. When a number of interacting waves are present in a system, such as low- or high-pressure waves moving as weather across a continent, “the description of an individual wave is neither possible nor relevant.What becomes of physical importance and practical use is the density and statistics of the interacting waves.”

This illustrates the need for wave turbulence theory, what Nahmod calls a fundamental question in physics and mathematics. In spite of the fact that illustrious mathematicians including giants such as Leonardo da Vinci and the Russian mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov have contributed to scientists’ understanding of it, she adds, “to this day wave turbulence theory is still lacking robust mathematical foundations. This is what we’ll be working on.”

The mathematics of wave turbulence theory offers scientists the ability to predict the evolution of the wave action spectral density of interacting wave systemsin practical, useful terms. Nahmod’s team’s website states that “a perfect example to illustrate the importance of wave turbulence theory is that of forecasting surface gravity waves in the oceans,” which are important for navigation and safe operations at sea and on offshore platforms. Forecasters using equations derived with wave turbulence theory release models every three hours every day to mariners and those who rely on the information.

But, they point out, “Although the wave kinetic equation has been widely used, its range of applicability has never been put on a rigorous mathematical foundation. Its predictions of the energy spectrum are not always in agreement with empirical data. This discrepancy could, in part, be explained by the lack of a rigorous mathematical theory. This collaboration is the first attempt for a systematic coordinated study of wave turbulence theory in a large-scale project, bringing together state-of-the-art skills in the areas of mathematics and physics, with theoretical, experimental and numerical expertise.”

Nahmod received her Ph.D. degree in mathematics from Yale University and took postdoctoral positions at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and at the University of Texas at Austin and was twice member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She came to campus in 1998. She is a fellow of the American Mathematical Society, and a recipient of the Sargent-Faull Fellowship at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and of a Simons Fellowship and of a Simons Professorship (Fall 2015). She was named UMass’s Spotlight Scholar and received the campus’s Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity in 2016.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Mathematician Nahmod Receives Coveted Simons Foundation GrantNewsletter Headline: Mathematician Nahmod Receives Coveted Simons Foundation GrantTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Mathematics professor Andrea R. Nahmod has been named a principal investigator for a Simons Foundation Collaboration in Mathematical and Physical Sciences that will involve leading mathematics and physics researchers in the United States and Europe in a systematic, coordinated study of wave turbulence.

 

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Kevrekidis Named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society

January 15, 2020

Panayotis “Panos” Kevrekidis, Distinguished University Professor and professor of mathematics and statistics, recently was named a member of the 2020 Class of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) for “contributions in applied mathematics, especially in the theory and applications of nonlinear waves.” He is one of just 52 mathematical scientists from around the world to be recognized by their peers in the program, now in its eighth year. 

Professor Jill Pipher, president of the Providence, Rhode Island-based society, said,“It is a great pleasure to offer my sincere congratulations to the new AMS Fellows, honored for their notable contributions to mathematics and to the profession. We are grateful to the nominators and the members of the selection committee for helping the AMS recognize the achievements of their esteemed colleagues through this fellowship.”

Kevrekidis says of the honor, “I am both honored and humbled by this selection. Having spent my entire professional career at UMass Amherst over the past 20 years, I genuinely feel that this distinction reflects on the kind of working environment that, more concretely my department and more broadly the university, have created to allow for the recognized body of work to take place. I am thus very thankful for all the support and the opportunities and very grateful to the AMS Fellows committee for recognizing not only my work but also my department and university through this honor.”

Kevrekidis says he thinks of his work as being highly inter-disciplinary, lying principally at the interface between mathematics and physics. He always likes to keep in mind how his models and equations can be tested and applied in the real world, be it in atomic, optical or materials physical applications. Kevrekidis’ work is especially focused on the propagation of nonlinear wave structures and how these differ from the standard, and simpler, linear wave propagation theory.

As he explains, nonlinear, also called solitary, wave patterns arise in a wide range of phenomena from water waves to the propagation of information in optical fibers or from ultracold atomic quantum systems – the coldest matter in the universe – to the human scale in the dynamics of tumors or in neural signaling in the brain. They are at work at very large scales such as gravitational waves, as well, he points out.

The mathematician adds that he very much enjoys working with students and young scholars, and has graduated more than 10 Ph.D. students and mentored about an equal number of post-Ph.D. young scholars. He also collaborates extensively with colleagues on campus and throughout the world, having held long-term visiting positions at the universities of Oxford, Heidelberg, Hamburg, Athens, Rouen, Minnesota and the Los Alamos National Lab, among others.

Kevrekidis is one of UMass Amherst’s most highly recognized researchers. Recent distinctions include being named a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2014 and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics in 2017. He has also received that society’s J.D. Crawford Prize in Dynamical Systems in 2013 and the T. Brooke Benjamin Prize for Nonlinear Waves in 2016, plus the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2015. He has been a Stanislaw M. Ulam Distinguished Scholar of the Los Alamos National Lab in 2014, a Greek Diaspora Fellow at the University of Athens in 2017 and a Leverhulme Trust Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford in 2019.

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Panayotis “Panos” Kevrekidis, Distinguished University Professor and professor of mathematics and statistics, recently was named a member of the 2020 Class of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) for “contributions in applied mathematics, especially in the theory and applications of nonlinear waves.”

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New Book Edited by UMass Amherst Labor Center Faculty Members “Labor in the Time of Trump” Now Available

Subhead: Collection of essays from Cornell University Press critically analyzes the right-wing attack on workers and unions, and offers strategies to build a working-class movementContact Name: Jasmine KerrisseyContact Email: jasmine@soc.umass.edu January 15, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Five members of the faculty of the UMass Amherst Labor Center have collaborated in editing “Labor in the Time of Trump,” a new book published this week by Cornell University Press that critically analyzes the right-wing attack on workers and unions and offers strategies to build a working–class movement.

Jasmine Kerrissey, Eve Weinbaum, Clare Hammonds, Tom Juravich and the late Dan Clawson collected 12 essays from leading labor scholars for the book that examine the conservative upsurge, explore the key challenges the labor movement faces today and draw lessons from recent activist successes.

While President Trump’s election in 2016 may have been a wakeup call for labor and the political left, the editors say that the underlying processes behind this shift to the right have been building for at least forty years. They argue that only by analyzing the vulnerabilities in the right-wing strategy can the labor movement develop an effective response.

“Labor in the Time of Trump is a must-read,” says Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO. “It makes clear that labor’s role is crucial in a time when workers and our institutions are under attack. Analyzing the current anti-worker, anti-union environment and how the Right brought us to this point, the book pivots to the opportunities we have for making a new, more progressive world. A better world is possible.”

The editors all regularly work with unions and worker centers, and they teach graduate courses in labor studies, economics, history, organizing and union campaigns.

Essays in the 270-page paperback volume were provided by Donald Cohen, founder and executive director of In the Public Interest; Bill Fletcher, Jr., author of Solidarity Divided; Shannon Gleeson, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations; Sarah Jaffe, co-host of Dissent Magazine’s “Belabored” podcast; Cedric Johnson, University of Illinois at Chicago; Jennifer Klein, Yale University; Gordon Lafer, University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center; Jose La Luz, labor activist; Nancy MacLean, Duke University; MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina state AFL-CIO; Jon Shelton, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay; Lara Skinner, The Worker Institute at Cornell University; and Kyla Walters, Sonoma State University.

The UMass Amherst Labor Center was founded in 1964 as the Labor Relations and Research Center after AFL-CIO President George Meany visited the Amherst campus to give a commencement address and encouraged the university to start a labor studies program similar to those that existed at many other land-grant institutions. A multi-disciplinary program drawing on the strengths of faculty in many departments across campus, this new program was unique given its focus on labor and workers’ rights, distinguishing it from joint labor-management programs.

In 1996, the Union Leadership and Activism (ULA) program was created for union leaders, staff and activists. The only limited-residency graduate program of its kind, it has been a highly successful part of the UMass Labor Center for more than 20 years. In 2010 the Labor Center joined the university’s sociology department to leverage the department’s strong focus on work and labor issues, as well as gender, race and immigration.

More information, and the ability to order the new book, can be found on the Cornell University Press website.

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Five members of the faculty of the UMass Amherst Labor Center have collaborated in editing “Labor in the Time of Trump,” a new book published this week by Cornell University Press that critically analyzes the right-wing attack on workers and unions and offers strategies to build a working–class movement.

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UMass Amherst Researchers Identify New Mechanism Involved in Promoting Breast Cancer

Subhead: Study found two cosmetics chemicals damage DNA of breast cells at low dosesContact Name: D. Joseph JerryContact Phone: 413-545-5335Contact Email: jjerry@vasci.umass.eduJanuary 15, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – A new approach to studying the effects of two common chemicals used in cosmetics and sunscreens found they can cause DNA damage in breast cells at surprisingly low concentrations, while the same dose did not harm cells without estrogen receptors.

The research, published Jan. 15 in Environmental Health Perspectives, identifies a new mechanism by which estrogens and xenoestrogens – environmental chemicals that act like estrogens – may promote breast cancer, says breast cancer researcher D. Joseph Jerry, professor of veterinary and animal sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Jerry also serves as science director of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute and co-director of the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research in a partnership between UMass Amherst and Baystate Medical Center.

“The new research offers more sensitive tools to screen for the potential deleterious effects of environmental chemicals, which would be overlooked by methods currently used,” Jerry explains. He notes that federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), typically screen for toxicity of these chemicals in cell lines that don’t have estrogen receptors.

The two compounds – examined in cells grown in the lab and in the mammary glands of mice – were the ultraviolet filter benzophenone-3 (BP-3), also known as oxybenzone, and propylparaben (PP), an antimicrobial preservative found in cosmetics and other personal care products.

Jerry emphasizes that more research is needed to determine what this discovery may mean in terms of consumer guidelines. “Benzophenone-3 is a sunscreen that works. If you use it, you can prevent skin cancer. Am I arguing you shouldn’t use sunscreen? I am not. But there may be a subset of people for whom it may present a significant hazard,” says Jerry, such as women at high risk for breast cancer or those with a history of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

Previous research on the impact of BP-3 and PP focused on the exposure necessary to activate specific genes in cancer cells or accelerate their growth. “Those effects required concentrations that exceed the levels that most women are normally exposed to,” Jerry says.

But the new research shows that DNA damage in breast cells with estrogen receptors occurred at concentrations that are 1/10th to 1/30th of that required to stimulate proliferation or gene expression. “There may be a risk at lower levels than we would have previously understood,” Jerry says.

Jerry and colleagues at UMass Amherst, UMass Medical Center-Baystate and Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute decided to look at whether PP and BP-3 have estrogenic effects at concentrations relevant to population exposures because “we know that estrogen can promote breast cancer,” Jerry says.

“It’s not toxic unless the cells have estrogen receptors,” he says. “So it’s acting through the estrogen receptor to create this damage. There is no consequence if you test it in other cells.”

Release Number: 154-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Researchers Identify New Mechanism Involved in Promoting Breast Cancer Newsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Researchers Identify New Mechanism Involved in Promoting Breast Cancer Tag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A new approach to studying the effects of two common chemicals used in cosmetics and sunscreens found they can cause DNA damage in breast cells at surprisingly low concentrations, while the same dose did not harm cells without estrogen receptors.

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Researchers Discover New Building Blocks of Catalyst Zeolite Nanopores

Subhead: UMass Amherst work offers advances in materials for clean energy and carbon captureContact Name: Scott AuerbachContact Email: auerbach@umass.eduJanuary 9, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Zeolites crystals, used among other things for refining petroleum to gasoline and biomass into biofuels, are the most-used catalysts by weight on the planet, and discovering mechanisms of how they form has been of intense interest to the chemical industry and related researchers, say chemist Scott Auerbach and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They hope their advance on a new way to understand zeolite structure and vibrations leads to new, tailor-made zeolites for use in sophisticated new applications.

Their cover storyin a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society describes how the team used systematic analyses and a technique called Raman spectroscopy, plus quantum mechanical modeling, to discover new nano-scale building blocks they call “tricyclic bridges,” to help explain zeolites’ porous structures and their dynamical behaviors.

Auerbach says, “This breakthrough is important because it gives us a way to see the invisible – the precise structures that lead to zeolite crystals. We hope such structural insights will help us to synthesize new, tailor-made zeolites for advanced applications in clean energy and carbon capture.” His co-authors include chemical engineer Wei Fan and first author Tongkun Wang at UMass Amherst, with others at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The authors say that by replacing previous “overly simplistic” approaches, their methods can “enhance our ability to use Raman spectroscopy as an analytical tool for investigating zeolite structure and formation, using the concept of tricyclic bridges.”

In this work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Division of Materials Science and Engineering, Auerbach and colleagues say that revealing zeolite synthesis is complicated by the fact that precursor structures are mid-sized, so they fall into a nano-scale “blind spot” – too large for atomic-level and functional group structural analyses and too disordered for X-ray analyses. By contrast, Raman spectroscopy “has emerged as a powerful tool for probing medium-range structures in a variety of materials,” they note.

Fan explains that until now, experimental studies on the synthesis of zeolites with new structures and compositions were based on trial-and-error methods, and characterizing the process posed a “tantalizing challenge.” Their contribution based on tricyclic bridges provides a new tool for understanding the crystallization pathway, opening the door to designing materials for advanced applications in catalysis and separations, they state.

Further, they point out that “it is often assumed with little evidence that Raman bands can be assigned to individual zeolite rings.” They tested this assumption and found that tricyclic bridges ­– collections of three zeolite rings connected together – play a critical role in zeolite formation. Using this, they discovered a precise relationship between zeolite bond angle and Raman frequency that can be used to pinpoint structures that form during zeolite crystallization.

In future work, Auerbach, Fan and their team plan to measure and model Raman spectra during the zeolite crystallization process, to determine which tricyclic bridges are present and will become inherited by the resulting zeolites.

“Critical Role of Tricyclic Bridges Including Neighboring Rings for Understanding Raman Spectra of Zeolites”Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Researchers Discover New Building Blocks of Catalyst Zeolite NanoporesNewsletter Headline: Researchers Discover New Building Blocks of Catalyst Zeolite NanoporesTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Zeolites crystals, used among other things for refining petroleum to gasoline and biomass into biofuels, are the most-used catalysts by weight on the planet, and discovering mechanisms of how they form has been of intense interest to the chemical industry and related researchers, say chemist Scott Auerbach and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They hope their advance on a new way to understand zeolite structure and vibrations leads to new, tailor-made zeolites for use in sophisticated new applications.

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Foundation Supports New Work on Brain-eating Amoeba

January 7, 2020

 

Evolutionary cell biologist Lillian Fritz-Laylin, biology, recently was granted a three-year, $300,000 Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research to support her research on the pathogenesis of the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri. The amoeba gets inside swimmers’ noses, crawls up the olfactory nerve and into the brain where they destroy tissue.

As she explains, “Although this amoeba has killed 95% of the people it’s infected, we know almost nothing about it.” She and colleagues use the non-pathogenic sister species Naegleria gruberi as a practical and safe study organism for understanding the basic biology of these species, in particular, how the cells move.

Fritz-Laylin adds, “There are a lot of species of Naegleria, but only one causes disease, so there has been a lot of focus on that, but when treating the disease what really matters is how to kill Naegleria without hurting our own cells. We’ll be looking into ways to do that. Our human cells use two different polymer systems to move, but these amoeba use only one of them, so that difference could be a target for treatment.”

Katrina Velle, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fritz-Laylin lab ­– one of the few to study this organism, she notes – will continue to lead the project and conduct much of the planned experimental and genomic work. Using gene manipulation, genomics techniques, treatment with various compounds and inhibitors, they will study how the organisms move, eat, divide and maintain their water balance.

“We might be able to interrupt any one of these systems to kill them without hurting the person infected,” Fritz-Laylin points out.

Much of her research has been focused on the evolution of cell movement, she notes, explaining that humans and Naeglaria shared a common ancestor about 1.2 billion years ago. The amoeba, which can either crawl or swim at different life cycle stages, evolved movement that looks similar to that of human white blood cells, but the underlying systems are very different; similar functions evolved along different pathways.

Human white blood cells are immune system scavengers that rove through the bloodstream eating invading pathogens. Fritz-Laylin explains, “They eat bacteria, so they crawl around to hunt them. If you look in a microscope, Naeglaria move like our white blood cells but they achieve that movement differently.”

For 28 years, the Smith Family Foundation has supported full-time faculty biomedical researchers at nonprofit academic, medical or research institutions in Massachusetts, at Brown University or at Yale University. Its mission is “to launch the careers of newly independent biomedical researchers with the ultimate goal of achieving medical breakthroughs.”

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Evolutionary cell biologist Lillian Fritz-Laylin, biology, recently was granted a three-year, $300,000 Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research to support her research on the pathogenesis of the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri

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Research Team Traces Evolution of the Domesticated Tomato

Subhead: UMass Amherst biologists led evolutionary detective work on fruit’s originsContact Name: Ana CaicedoContact Email: caicedo@bio.umass.eduJanuary 7, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In a new paper, a team of evolutionary biologists and geneticists led by senior author associate professor Ana Caicedo, with first author Hamid Razifard at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and others, report that they have identified missing links in the tomato’s evolution from a wild blueberry-sized fruit in South America to the larger modern tomato of today.

The missing link that deserves more attention than it has gotten to date, they say, is one of a number of intermediate variants between the fully wild and fully domesticated tomato. Results of their genetic studies indicate that the modern cultivated tomato is most closely related to a weed-like tomato group still found in Mexico rather than to semi-domesticated intermediate types found in South America.

Razifard, a postdoctoral researcher in the Caicedo lab, says, “What’s new is that we propose that about 7,000 years ago, these weedy tomatoes may have been re-domesticated into the cultivated tomato.” The common cultivated tomato is the world’s highest value and most widely grown vegetable crop and an important model for studying fruit development, Caicedo and colleagues point out.

In this work, part of a larger research effort supported by the National Science Foundation and led by Esther van der Knaap at the University of Georgia, the researchers say that for many years an oversimplified view of tomato domestication was thought to involve two major transitions, the first from small, wild Solanum pimpinellifolium L. (SP) to a semi-domesticated intermediate, S. lycoperiscum L. var. cerasiforme (SLC). The second was a transition from an intermediate group (SLC) to fully domesticated cultivated tomato (S. lycopersicum L. var. lycopersicum (SLL)).

Their genetic studies address the role of what they call a “historically contentious” and complex intermediate stage of tomato domestication, an essential chapter that should not be overlooked in the tomato’s long journey from wildness to domestication. Details appear in an Advanced Access edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Razifard and colleagues, who created a public genomic variants dataset for this study, used whole-genome sequencing of wild, intermediate and domesticated (SP, SLC, and SLL) varieties, plus population genomic analyses to reconstruct tomato domestication, focusing on evolutionary changes especially in the intermediate stages (SLC). They generated new whole-genome sequences for 166 samples, with particular attention to intermediate variants from its native range and cultivated fruit from Mexico, previously under-represented in studies.

Razifard says, “We found that SLC may have originated in Ecuador around 80,000 years ago as a wild species rather than a domesticate. It was cultivated in Peru and Ecuador by native people later to create medium-size tomato fruits. We also found that two subgroups from the intermediate group may have spread northward to Central America and Mexico possibly as a weedy companion to other crops.”

“Remarkably, these northward extensions of SLC seem to have lost some of the domestication-related phenotypes present in South America. They still grow in milpas of Mexico, where people use them as food although not cultivating them intentionally,” he adds. Milpas are fields where farmers plant many different crops in the same area.

He and Caicedo note that an origin of the domestic tomato from weed-like ancestors was proposed in 1948 based on the many native names that exist for the weed-like tomato, in contrast to fewer names for the common cultivated tomato. This hypothesis was challenged by others who argued against Mexico as a center of tomato domestication due to the absence of completely wild tomatoes there.

Razifard says, “It’s still a mystery how tomatoes have moved northward. All we have is genetic evidence and no archaeological evidence because tomato seeds don’t preserve well in the archeological records.”

The researchers point out that exploring intermediate stages of tomato domestication has “direct implications for crop improvement.” For example, they observed some signals of selection in certain intermediate populations for alleles involved in disease resistance and drought tolerance, important, Razifard says, “Such evidence is useful for finding candidate alleles that can be used for creating disease-resistant and/or drought-tolerant tomatoes.” Other intermediate populations had higher beta-carotene or sugar content, attractive traits to consumers.

The evolutionary biologist says, “This is the kind of paper that Darwin would have enjoyed reading. He drew many of his insights on evolution from studying plants, especially crops. He corresponded extensively with botanists before he finalized his theory of evolution through natural selection.”

A postdoctoral researcher who did much of the population genomic analyses for this project, Razifard adds that he wants to support the movement in biology against “plant blindness,” the tendency to ignore the importance of plants in studying evolution as well as other subfields of biology. Also, he is from a minority Azerbaijani-speaking area of Iran and says, “This paper is special to me because it’s my first one with a female-majority author list. I feel lucky to be part of a generation that is changing science, and I hope this paper serves as a model for gender equity in STEM fields.”

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In a new paper, a team of evolutionary biologists and geneticists led by senior author associate professor Ana Caicedo, with first author Hamid Razifard at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and others, report that they have identified missing links in the tomato’s evolution from a wild blueberry-sized fruit in South America to the larger modern tomato of today. The missing link that deserves more attention than it has gotten to date, they say, is one of a number of intermediate variants between the fully wild and fully domesticated tomato. Results of their genetic studies indicate that the modern cultivated tomato is most closely related to a weed-like tomato group still found in Mexico rather than to semi-domesticated intermediate types found in South America.

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Arora Authors Article on Corporate Sustainability Executives and Shareholder Value

December 20, 2019

Priyank Arora, assistant professor of operations and information management in the Isenberg School of Management, is the lead author on an article recently published in the “Journal of Operations Management.”

The article, “When do appointments of corporate sustainability executives affect shareholder value?,” was first published online in December, with a hardcopy volume to follow.

In it, Arora and his coauthors present their findings using event study methodology, followed by regression analyses and support the strategy of appointing sustainability executives to top management teams. They say that although announcements of such appointments do not affect shareholder value overall, there are nuances in the stock market reactions to appointments depending on various firm-and industry-specific factors.

“Journal of Operations Management” is a peer-reviewed journal and ranked at the top of journals for publishing empirical and data-driven research within the field of operations research and management science.

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Priyank Arora, assistant professor of operations and information management in the Isenberg School of Management, is the lead author on an article recently published in the “Journal of Operations Management.”

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Gender-tailored Treatment Could Ease Opioid Epidemic

Subhead: UMass Amherst researcher says prevention needs to start in the primary care settingContact Name: Elizabeth EvansContact Phone: 413-545-4434Contact Email: eaevans@umass.eduDecember 20, 2019

AMHERST, Mass. – Gender-tailored methods to address the harmful mental health effects of childhood adversity may help alleviate the current opioid crisis and make treatment more effective, concludes University of Massachusetts Amherst epidemiology researcher Elizabeth Evans in her latest research about opioid use disorder (OUD).

Looking for new ways to address the public health emergency that the opioid crisis has created, Evans and colleagues examined gender differences in associations between mental health conditions and adverse childhood experiences (ACE) among adults with opioid use disorder.

The study, published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors, suggests that treatment for OUD and mental health conditions, especially in the case of women, should be integrated in settings that also provide child care and create a supportive environment to address stigma and shame. “Women are often treated for OUD in predominantly male settings,” she says. “The care to address OUD and mental health conditions needs to be coordinated, and women’s fears need to be addressed,” such as concern over potential loss of parental rights if they seek treatment.

ACEs are potentially traumatic events – anything from experiencing or witnessing violence, abuse and neglect to household instability due to incarceration, illness, substance misuse and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACEs can be balanced by positive experiences, which act as protective factors, but they also are linked with risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death.

“The findings suggest ACE may cause or contribute to OUD differently for women and men,” says Evans, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “We need to address these ACE issues, in addition to opioid use disorder and mental health problems, in order to resolve both of these conditions.”

In an effort to fill some gender-based knowledge gaps about OUD, Evans and colleagues at UMass Amherst and the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed nationally representative, 2012-2013 data from 388 women and 390 men with heroin or prescription opioid misuse who were part of the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III.

“This survey is a powerful resource for understanding the causes and consequences of addiction in our country. It has a broader range of the continuum of addiction, including all those people who never access treatment. Another powerful advantage is that the survey measures childhood adversity, mental health, and opioid and other types of substance use disorders. Very few nationally representative surveys measure all of those risk factors and conditions,” Evans explains.

The researchers examined factors associated with OUD, mental health conditions, ACE and gender, and calculated predicted probabilities. Among the findings:

  • Women with opioid use disorder are more likely than men to have mood and anxiety disorders, and less likely than men to have conduct disorders. “Women more than men internalize the effects of trauma, and the depression and anxiety become this persistent vulnerability, and they turn to opioids to relieve it,” Evans says. “Men are more likely to externalize – become angry and aggressive. They turn to different ways of coping that lead to conduct disorders.”
     
  • More than 80% of both men and women with OUD reported at least one adverse childhood experience, compared with an ACE prevalence of about 60% in those without OUD. Almost half reported more than three types of ACE, and as exposure to ACE increases, the risk for mood disorders is higher for women than men.
     
  • More women than men have prescription opioid disorder and fewer women have heroin use disorder.

Evans says addressing ACE and its impact needs to become a routine part of preventive healthcare.

“Opioid misuse is a form of childhood adversity. In other words, parents with OUD may transfer risk factors for mental health conditions and OUD to their children,” she says. “So how do we break the cycle? Evaluating and assessing for ACE should be standard practice in the primary care and other health care settings as a way to prevent mental health conditions and opioid use disorder.”

Release Number: 146-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Gender-tailored Treatment Could Ease Opioid EpidemicNewsletter Headline: Gender-tailored Treatment Could Ease Opioid EpidemicTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Gender-tailored methods to address the harmful mental health effects of childhood adversity may help alleviate the current opioid crisis and make treatment more effective, concludes UMass  epidemiology researcher Elizabeth Evans in her latest research about opioid use disorder (OUD).

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Joseph C. Bardin is Co-author of Paper Ranked No. 12 Among Most Discussed and Shared Research of 2019

December 19, 2019

A paper published in the journal “Nature” in October and co-authored by Joseph C. Bardin, electrical and computer engineering, is ranked No. 12 in theannual Altmetric Top 100 highlights of research published in 2019. The list includes research papers that have generated significant international online attention and discussion. Altmetric tracks and analyzes the online activity around scholarly research.

Bardin is a member of the multi-disciplinary research team that published the paper that says Google, using a quantum computer, has achieved a breakthrough by performing a task that isn’t possible with traditional computers.

In the paper, scientists at Google’s research laboratory in Santa Barbara, Calif., say they have reached a milestone they call “quantum supremacy” by performing a mathematical calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that today’s largest supercomputers could not complete in less than 10,000 years.

The paper, which has more than 70 authors, received national news coverage and generated 375 news stories and more than 6,000 tweets, according to Altmetric.  

Bardin, who is currently on leave at Google in California, says he works with the team on integrated circuit control and measurement electronics.   

The quantum computer the Google scientists are using is different from ordinary devices because it relies on the way some objects react at the subatomic level or when they are subject to extreme cold, like metal chilled to 460 degrees below zero.

Scientists have known for a century that the predictable laws of Newtonian physics fall apart at the atomic and subatomic level. In this quantum realm, electrons leap instantaneously from one energy state to another. Particles can exist in multiple states at the same time, a phenomenon known as “superposition.” They can also stay connected across large distances, what modern physicists call “entanglement.”

In the paper, the research team says, “Our Sycamore processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of a quantum circuit a million times—our benchmarks currently indicate that the equivalent task for a state-of-the-art classical supercomputer would take approximately 10,000 years. This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm.”

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A paper published in the journal “Nature” in October and co-authored by Joseph C. Bardin, electrical and computer engineering, is ranked No. 12 in theannual Altmetric Top 100 highlights of research published in 2019. The list includes research papers that have generated significant international online attention and discussion

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Thawing Permafrost Affecting Northern Alaska’s Land-to-Ocean River Flows

Subhead: UMass Amherst, multi-institution team see cascading effects of climate warmingContact Name: Michael RawlinsContact Phone: 413-545-0659Contact Email: mrawlins@umass.eduDecember 18, 2019

AMHERST, Mass. – A new analysis of the changing character of runoff, river discharge and other hydrological cycle elements across the North Slope of Alaska reveals significant increases in the proportion of subsurface runoff and cold season discharge, changes the authors say are “consistent with warming and thawing permafrost.”

First author and lead climate modeler Michael Rawlins, associate professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and associate director of its Climate Systems Research Center, says warming is expected to shift the Arctic from a surface water-dominated system to a groundwater-dominated system, with deeper water flow paths through newly thawed soils.

“Our model estimates of permafrost thaw are consistent with the notion that permafrost region ecosystems are shifting from a net sink to a net source of carbon,” he says.

Freshwater and riverborne nutrients, mainly dissolved organic carbon, are transported to coastal estuaries and lagoons that lie at the land-sea interface, he explains. Field measurements of river discharge and other hydrological cycle elements in this region are sparse, which requires a modeling approach to quantify the land-ocean flows and their changing character. Details of this investigation into Arctic watersheds between Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) and just west of the Mackenzie River over the period 1981-2010 are in the current issue of the open access journal, The Cryosphere.

Rawlins explains, “Our model includes a state-of-the-art simulation of soil freeze-thaw cycles that allows us to better understand how permafrost thaw is influencing the magnitude and timing of hydrological flows. Our results point to greater impacts of warming across the Brooks Range, including increasing cold season (November to April) river discharge and a higher proportion of subsurface runoff.”

Further, the changing terrestrial inflows may be influencing food web structure within the lagoons, he adds. “Local native communities rely on the fish and other resources in the lagoon ecosystem for their subsistence lifestyle. More than 150 species of migratory birds and waterfowl are supported by the region’s food webs, and the lagoons are a rich source of fish for native communities.” In particular, Barrow, Nuiqsut and Kaktvik hunters and residents rely on the high productivity of the Beaufort Lagoon systems to support fish and bird populations they live on, Rawlins points out.

In this study, the Permafrost Water Balance Model was validated against available measurements of river discharge and water held in the snow pack. Rawlins and colleagues are developing models and leveraging in situ and remote sensing measurements to better understand flows into the Beaufort Lagoons and predict how permafrost thaw and water cycle intensification will affect lagoon ecosystem dynamics in the future.

The researchers observed significant increases in cold season discharge, such as 134% of the long-term average for the North Slope, and 215% in the Colville River basin, for example. They report a significant increase in the ratio of subsurface runoff to total runoff for the region and for 24 of the 42 study basins, with the change most prevalent across the northern foothills of the Brooks Range. They also observed a decline in terrestrial water storage, which they attribute to losses in soil ice that outweigh gains in soil liquid water storage. The timing of peak spring freshet discharge, the flow of snowmelt into the sea, also has shifted earlier by 4.5 days.

The authors say findings have implications for water, carbon and nutrient cycling in coastal ecosystems and beyond. North Slope rivers are a primary source of new organic nutrients to the Beaufort Sea lagoons, with half of the annual freshwater export occurring in a two-week window following snowmelt in spring. As the climate warms, carbon that has been sequestered for thousands of years in permafrost soils thaws and is mobilized and transferred to river systems, with some emitted to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, accelerating warming.

This study is part of a multi-institution grant from National Science Foundation’s Long-term Ecological Research program and Office of Polar Programs led by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to Rawlins, other project scientists are investigating how processes such as shoreline erosion and sea ice dynamics are influencing coastal ecosystem function in this region.

Release Number: 145-20Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Thawing Permafrost Affecting Northern Alaska’s Land-to-Ocean River FlowsNewsletter Headline: Thawing Permafrost Affecting Northern Alaska’s Land-to-Ocean River FlowsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A new analysis of the changing character of runoff, river discharge and other hydrological cycle elements across the North Slope of Alaska reveals significant increases in the proportion of subsurface runoff and cold season discharge, changes the authors say are “consistent with warming and thawing permafrost.”

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