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Fossil fortune tellers: UF researcher uses fossil record to predict crustacean decline

28 Oct
Victoria Messina is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Florida. Though she typically enjoys writing about fashion and events happening around the UF campus, she decided to try something new by writing a science-based article for Layman’s Terms Media. “I decided to take the plunge into this science world that’s so foreign to me just to change things up a bit. It was really interesting and fun to talk to my sources and hear how passionate they are about this interesting and crucial subject.”

Victoria Messina is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Florida. Though she typically enjoys writing about fashion and events happening around the UF campus, she decided to try something new by writing a science-based article for Layman’s Terms Media. “I decided to take the plunge into this science world that’s so foreign to me just to change things up a bit. It was really interesting and fun to talk to my sources and hear how passionate they are about this interesting and crucial subject.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

 By Victoria Messina

By studying fossils from the Mesozoic Era,  a period 251-66 million years ago when reptiles shared the land with dinosaurs, researchers at the University of Florida now have a better understanding of the relationship between coral reefs and crustacean diversity.

The study showed that as coral reefs increased over the course of history, so did the biodiversity of decapod crustaceans such as lobsters, shrimp and crabs. But during a historical decline of reefs 150 million years ago, the biodiversity of crustaceans plummeted due to their  reliance on reefs for shelter and food.

Adiël Klompmaker, postdoctoral fellow at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF and lead author of the study, said this is the first comprehensive investigation of the rise of decapods in the fossil record.

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Klompmaker said data showing the correlation between coral reefs and crustacean biodiversity had been previously lacking from the fossil record perspective.

His study, now available online and published  in November’s print issue of Geology, is also the first to quantitatively show that decapod diversity increased from four to over 1,300 species between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras in a time period referred to as the “Mesozoic Decapod Revolution.”

Klompmaker said this historical study gives scientists a clue as to what’s in store for the future of crustaceans.

“If reefs continue to decline at the current rate during this century, then a few thousand species of decapods are in real danger,” Klompmaker said.

Some scientists have predicted that nearly 20 percent of the world’s reefs may collapse within 40 years. Though complete extinction of all decapods is not likely, Klompmaker said adaptation to coral reef collapse would be very difficult for crustaceans that live in reefs and depend on them for food. The overall decline in coral reefs and decapod diversity poses major impacts, such as less availability of crustaceans like shrimp and crabs that are a major food and money source for many.

A small squat lobsters from the Late Jurassic of the Czech Republic. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

A small squat lobsters from the Late Jurassic of the Czech Republic. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

To most experts in the field, Klompmaker’s findings did not come as a surprise.

“After diving in reefs all around the Caribbean over the past 20 years, I have experienced their decline firsthand,” said Donald Behringer, assistant professor of Marine Ecological Processes and Field Ecology of Aquatic Organisms at UF.

Most research shows that the recent decline of reefs is due to both natural and human-induced causes.

Although storms and diseases have played a natural role in the deterioration, humans play a much larger role. One major human-influenced impact is ocean acidification, or the decrease in the pH of oceans due to excess carbon dioxide emissions. As the water becomes more acidic, the calcium carbonate base of the corals starts to corrode.

Andrew Zimmerman, associate professor of oceanography and geobiology at UF, said fossil fuel pollution is the root of all the human-influenced impact.

Klompmaker examines fossils of ancient crustaceans at the Florida Museum that may hold answers about the future of modern species. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Klompmaker examines fossils of ancient crustaceans at the Florida Museum that may hold answers about the future of modern species.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

“There’s much concern about major loss of species due to global warming on land, but the risk of mass extinction in ocean life is far greater due to combined effects of ocean acidification and global warming,” Zimmerman said.

Slowing the pace of climate change by reducing the release of greenhouse gases is the single most important change that needs to occur, though the positive effects of this change would not be evident for a long time, Behringer said.

However, there are more immediate steps that can be taken to lessen the brunt of direct human impacts on reefs. People who go boating, diving or fishing can take steps to make sure they are treating reefs in a sustainable manner, Behringer said.

For example, overfishing and coral injuries from boat anchors are two problems that can be easily fixed with proper management. Stricter fishing limits and enforcement are needed to ensure that certain areas don’t get overfished, Behringer said.  He also said simply implementing objects like buoys to protect reefs and alter human use patterns can possibly help reduce anchor impact. Behringer is currently working on a study to figure out the best way to tackle the boat anchor problem.

Some students around the UF campus are starting to realize the economic impact of at-risk reefs.

“So many people can be negatively affected by the decline of reefs, whether it’s someone whose job revolves around reefs or just a tourist who wants to enjoy the coral reefs,” said Evan Hill, UF sophomore studying marine sciences.

A quarry with Late Jurassic rocks representing a fossil coral reef in which many crustaceans were found in the Czech Republic. Photo by: Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

A quarry with Late Jurassic rocks representing a fossil coral reef in which many crustaceans were found in the Czech Republic. Photo by: Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

Klompmaker’s research showing the indisputable correlation between coral reefs and decapod presence has shown how reef deterioration negatively impacts the future seafood supply and the need for direct action. After all, history repeats itself.

“Everyone needs to be aware of it because everyone’s responsible for it,” Zimmerman said.

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‘Catch a Wave’ exhibit brings the beach to Gainesville

24 Oct
My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida.  Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new.  In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida. Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Nicole Parra

There are three words that describe the new  “Catch a Wave” exhibit hosted by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida: totally gnarly, bro.

The exhibit, which is the closest thing Gainesville residents have to the beach, includes vivid pictures, real-life specimens and hands-on activities. Visitors can almost feel the sand between their toes without the need for sunscreen.

‘Catch a Wave’ is a collaboration between Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, UF and the museum.

“Surfing Florida: A Photographic History” is a traveling exhibit originating from FAU’s College of Arts and Letters. UF and museum scientists contributed to the exhibit by adding a second part, “Surf Science: Waves and Wildlife,” which includes a full-scale shark model, a dolphin skeleton and a display of different Florida beach sands.

Catherine Ward Carey, public program coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the museum wanted to add to FAU’s exhibit by including an educational component.

“It was primarily a photographic exhibit, and then we’ve augmented it with natural history including surfing, snails, information on sea turtles and all sorts of cool things that are in the water with us,” Carey said.

Laura Caicedo, a marketing intern at the museum,  said the wave maker–an activity that helps teach visitors the science behind a wave–is her favorite part of the exhibit.

“It’s [the exhibit] a lot different than what we’ve had before,” Caicedo said.

Visitors can also find out their odds of getting a shark bite by visiting the museum’s famed International Shark Attack File, the longest running database on shark attacks.

John Wilson, a 19-year-old industrial engineering sophomore, said he decided to visit the exhibit because he has been surfing since he was 9 years old.

“The coolest things, I thought, were all the trophies and the pictures of the 1983 nationals and the dolphin skeleton,” Wilson said. “They were both very interesting and informative.”

Wilson said that the exhibit did a good job of showing  beaches from the surfer’s point of view while explaining the science behind a Floridian’s favorite place. He said he will be going back later this week.

Carey said the main purpose of this exhibit is to give Floridians a better understanding of their environment, particularly the beaches.

“With anything we do, we hope for a better appreciation and awareness of the natural world around us,” Carey said. “We do tend to focus our day-to-day living without noticing what’s at the beach,” Carey said.

The exhibit will run until January 20th, 2014. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for Florida residents and seniors, $3 for children ages 3-17 and free to UF students with a valid Gator 1 card and museum members.

Can exercise potentially help treat prostate cancer symptoms? UF researchers want to find out

21 Oct
Savanna Wood a junior studying Public Relations at the University of Florida. Wood was excited to contribute to Layman's Terms Media to try a new type of writing. "I wanted to attempt science and health writing because it is a topic I am very unfamiliar with. I am hoping that attempting different types of writing will help me find my calling. I am excited to continue to expand my knowledge of health science."

Savanna Wood a junior studying public relations at the University of Florida. Wood was excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media to try a new type of writing. “I wanted to attempt science and health writing because it is a topic I am very unfamiliar with. I am hoping that attempting different types of writing will help me find my calling. I am excited to continue to expand my knowledge of health science.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By: Savanna Wood

Researchers in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida are currently studying rats to discover how muscle decrease, a symptom of prostate cancer, can be reduced or avoided.

Because one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer throughout their lifetime, Peter Adhihetty, who holds a doctorate in biology, and his partners are tirelessly working to understand how a patient’s mitochondria is related to muscle mass and function decrease caused by prostate cancer.

Linda Nguyen, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Florida who works with Adhihetty, said mitochondria, or the “powerhouse of the south,” are important because they produce an energy-rich substance, adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.  ATP is a source of energy used in physiological reactions such as cell division, and is otherwise known as the currency of metabolism.

Understanding how these energy-rich organelles, or subunits of these cells, affect the organs and tissues will help researchers discover ways to minimize the impact that prostate cancer has on muscles. Nguyen said she hopes this will eventually lead to natural treatment options, minimizing the need for drugs.

Rat bootcamp

To analyze the muscle complications that result from the tumors, Adhihetty and his assistants culture and grow cancer cells and inject them directly into a rat’s prostate, Nguyen said.

To do this, the researchers divide the rats into two groups: mice with tumors and mice without tumors.  Those rats are then sub-divided into an active group and a sedentary group.

Because this research project is done through the exercise physiology department, dividing the rats into groups based on levels of exercise helps to study how/if exercise directly effects cancer, Nguyen said.

After the cancer is fully developed inside the rat, the active groups of rats are ready to attend research boot camp. The rats train for an hour a day, five days a week, for seven weeks. Nguyen said the rodents are placed on treadmills to ensure they are equally exercised.

“After seven weeks, the animals are euthanized and the tissues are harvested,” Nguyen said.

To aid in the process of tissue harvesting, Dr. Adhihetty offers volunteer positions to some of his students. Courtney Criswell, applied physiology and kinesiology major, is responsible for pulverizing the tissues that are broken up into difference muscle groups.

The organs and tissues are dissected from the rats, put into tubes and frozen with liquid nitrogen.

“My job is to take those tissues and to pulverize them and put them into a powder, while keeping them cold at the same time,” Criswell said.

Alaa Elannoan, a student of Dr. Adhihetty, started his volunteering just like Criswell did. He is now onto the step after the pulverizing of the tissue: western blotting.

“This is one of the many experiments that we do with proteins and tissues to analyze them,” said Elannoan.  “This two-to-three day process extracts proteins from the pulverized tissue and turns it into a liquid.”

Nguyen said that after the tissues are harvested and liquefied, they are analyzed to further understand the affect that mitochondria have on muscle function in a prostate cancer patient.

A main limitation of this study is that the tumor does not always form in the rat. Nguyen said it is important to remember that these obstacles are not uncommon when it comes to forcing cancer into action. The cancer cell injection has to be completely accurate in order to achieve results.

Adhietty and his colleagues are continuing to collaborate with other researchers in the department to get a better idea of prostate cancer as a disease.

“We like to further the understanding of how cancer affects skeletal muscles on the mitochondria and how exercise can lower the deficit. We then can pass our results on and let them be used for clinical research,” Nguyen said.

From “ice cream socials” to science: Creating confidence in young journalists

15 Oct

banner_final2.jpgDuring the past few sleep-deprived months, I have been attempting to reflect on my role in science communication–as a journalist, as a blogger, as a future mentor and as a grad student. For those of you who don’t know, I started Layman’s Terms Media because I have always had a passion for science.

Ever since I was about five years old, my elders have encouraged me to write. They said I was good at it, that it came naturally to me. I guess my first-grade journal entries about what I had for dinner the night before were impressive. I could always expect to receive at least one new trendy journal at every birthday party.

To me, writing was just a way to express myself and the world around me, I never thought about pursuing it professionally. It was my vice, my learning tool and my sense maker.

My early career aspirations ranged from being an Olympic gymnast to other common childhood dreams such as being a doctor, teacher or movie star. I ultimately decided to attend journalism school not only because writing came fairly easy to me, but I also saw it as a way to learn a little about a lot of things.

I originally started Layman’s Terms Media as a senior project–one of which I predicted would be live only until grades posted, eventually doomed to get swallowed in the abyss of the Internet, never to be found again (except, maybe by some obscure search terms).

While interning and freelancing at multiple “mainstream media” outlets, I exhaustively tried to pitch stories about science, but I was constantly rejected. Instead, I would be told to cover the typical “ice cream social” (a word journalists use to describe an irrelevant, fluffy, feature story). Those types of stories are fun at first, but they aren’t the kind of scoop that gets your adrenaline going.  I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to progress with science writing as a non-scientist unless I started writing it for an audience, no matter how big.

And then it dawned on me….publishing is free on the Internet!

I guess I should’ve thought of this sooner since I had been blogging about nonsense since I was 13 via ancient blogging sites like Xanga and Live Journal.

And then I thought: Why not use that to my advantage and write what I want to write about? I mean, I had formal journalism training why not use it to learn and grow as a science writer?

From there, Layman’s Terms Media kind of turned into my personal platform to do so. With no editor (except myself) I began writing regularly. I set deadlines for myself as if this blog was an ACTUAL publication. I pretended I had readers, and would (and still do) post my stories on Facebook and Twitter in attempts to get some sort of critical eyes.

And here I am, two years later.  I have a steady readership–it’s modest, but it’s something–and I can honestly say that writing for this “publication,” although not mainstream, has satisfied me in ways I’ve never experienced while covering “ice cream socials.”

The point of this post is not to ramble about my personal mission to become a science communicator, or share my narrative about how this site came to be. Rather, this post is to explain where I would like Layman’s Terms Media to go. I am writing it publicly so that you, the audience, can hold me accountable for the vision I am about to share. Continue reading

#anatomylessonsbyWendy: Eyeballs and light in 15 seconds

14 Oct

#anatomylessonsbywendy

via @wendyomgzlol

Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain how eyeballs respond to light!

Corrales uses Instagram to both teach and learn about scientific concepts related to the body. Check out her introduction here.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I'm a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy "lesson" videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body's inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It's all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I’m a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy “lesson” videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body’s inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It’s all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

Science in the city

2 Oct

As many of you may know, this summer I interned at the University of Florida’s Health Science Center communications office. While most of the work there was for PR purposes, I was still able to cover some of the great research going on at UF. Below is a cover story I wrote for The Post about research going on at the UF’s Jacksonville campus. Pretty cool stuff. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted in University of Florida’s Health Science Center magazine, The Post.

Researchers Fabiana Rollini and Dr. Jung Rae Cho work with Dr. Dominick Angiolillo on cardiovascular studies in Jacksonville. -Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Researchers Fabiana Rollini and Dr. Jung Rae Cho work with Dr. Dominick Angiolillo on cardiovascular studies
in Jacksonville.
-Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Amid the hustle and bustle of Jacksonville, University of Florida Health scientists are finding ways to solve some of our most challenging medical problems.

In the basement of the emergency medicine corridor of UF Health Jacksonville, Robert Wears, M.D., a professor in the department of emergency medicine, scans engineering books and medical journals, taking notes on his cluttered desk. He is carefully piecing together the historical puzzle of hospital safety.

Bridging the fields of engineering, psychology, medicine and sociology, Wears is designing an approach to eliminate hospital accidents, mistreatment and misdiagnosis.

“The way that nature has divided up her problems is not the same way the university has divided up its subjects,” Wears says. “You need a really interdisciplinary group.”

By studying hospital safety from a historical perspective, Wears hopes to devise an interdisciplinary plan to minimize harm in health facilities.

Wears is just one of the many world-renowned UF researchers who reside and study in the heart of Jacksonville. Located less than two hours from the main campus in Gainesville, UF Health Jacksonville typically has been known more for the clinical care it provides patients. But the research occurring at the UF College of Medicine- Jacksonville — basic, translational and clinical — is internationally recognized. M.D.s and Ph.D.s from around the globe collaborate to pump out groundbreaking research to improve public health and medicine. In fact, during the past five years, federal funding for research on the Jacksonville campus has grown 110 percent. Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville

30 Sep

Research corner

Research Corner is a platform for scientists to share their research and its significance through blogging. Scientists who wish to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media can simply send blog pitches to rburt004@fiu.edu.  Scientists will have an opportunity to collaborate with an editor to make sure their work is concise and understandable. Any research is welcome! 

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My name is Jackson Presser and I am a master's student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment  pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology.  I have worked in a lab for almost 3 years doing field and laboratory research on the emerging pathogen Pythium insidiosum(PI).  I think I have truly found my calling in research science.  I have never in my life been so exited/motivated to learn and expand my knowledge base.

My name is Jackson Presser and I am a master’s student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology. I have worked in a lab for almost 3 years doing field and laboratory research on the emerging pathogen Pythium insidiosum(PI). I think I have truly found my calling in research science. I have never in my life been so exited/motivated to learn and expand my knowledge base.

A researcher at the University of Florida has been conducting research on a fungal-like organism called Pythium insidiosum. Below, Jackson Presser, a graduate student at the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment shares his discoveries about the deadly, disease-causing oomycete that can infect both plants and animals. Horse, dog and cattle owners in north central Florida should be aware of the symptoms and preventative measures they can take to keep their pets and livestock safe from a disease known as Pythiosis. 

By: Jackson Presser

Pythiosis is a deadly disease of horses, dogs, cattle and other warm-blooded animals in tropical and subtropical regions, including Florida and the southeast United States (Mendoza, 2009). The disease also infects humans in Southeast Asia and is considered a potential emerging pathogen in the United States due to its expanding geographic and the number and variety of available hosts. The organism responsible for pythiosis is Pythium insidiosum, a fungal-like organism (oomycete) that is the only mammalian pathogen in a genus of plant pathogens (de Cock et al., 1987).  Not much is known about the life cycle of Pythium other than how it reproduces in the lab.  It is theorized that Pythium uses a plant host to sustain itself and reproduce in the environment, making the pathogen “trans-kingdom,”or able to infect both plants and animals.

Pythium insidiosum is common in stagnant, swampy water (lakes/ponds with water temperatures ranging from 68F-95F) worldwide, and the very type of water that is a staple of Gainesville and surrounding areas.  Pythiosis affects its host depending on how it is introduced. Dogs, horses, cattle and other mammals can be infected simply by wading or drinking water that has been tainted with the infection.  Since Pythium cannot penetrate healthy tissue the exposed area must already have an area of broken skin.  Once infected, death will result if left untreated.

Pythium insidiosum’s ideal living conditions:

Here is the map of the lakes sampled The colors just represent the different genetic clusters. Red is cluster 1, Green is cluster 3, Blue is cluster 4.

Here is the map of the lakes sampled
The colors just represent the different genetic clusters. Red is cluster 1, Green is cluster 3, Blue is cluster 4.

  • The organism favors water temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or more. They can be found at lower temperatures, but detection rate declines significantly with temperature below 75 degrees Celsius.
  • Water can be murky or clear.
  • Warmer water and more available sunlight favor the reproduction of the organism.
  • Reeds, lilies and grasses are preferable.
  • Dark, thick, muddy soil is best
  • Agricultural runoff seems to help with population density.  For example,  the more remote the body of water the less chance of finding the organism.

 Symptoms:

Symptoms can vary depending on where the animal is infected. Some of the most common symptoms include skin lesions that do not heal, or gastrointestinal problems such as loose stools, vomiting or loss of appetite.

Treatment:

Currently there are several forms of treatment available, all of which have varying degrees of success.  There is no guarantee that treatment will be successful, even in humans.  Currently the best form of treatment is prevention. Researchers advise pet owners to keep animals out of the water during the warm spring and summer months.  If exposure does occur, wash the infected area thoroughly with bleach spray, and plenty of soap and water.  If symptoms progress, owners should seek veterinary care right away.

Acknowledgements:

  • We thank Dr. Barbara Sheppard in the College of Veterinary Medicine for clinical isolates.
  • This research is funded by the Emerging Pathogens Institute and UF Office of Research.

References:

  • De Cock, A. W. A. M., et al. Pythium insidiosum sp. nov., the etiologic agent of pythiosis. J. Clin. Microbiol. 25 (1987).
  • Mendoza, L. in Oomycete Genetics and Genomics: Diversity, Interactions, and Research Tools (eds K. Lamour & S. Kamoun) (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009).
  • Mendoza, L., Hernandez, F. & Ajello, L. Life cycle of the human and animal Oomycete pathogen Pythium insidiosum. J. Clin. Microbiol. 31, 2967-2973 (1993).
  • Schurko, A. M. et al. A molecular phylogeny of Pythium insidiosum. Mycol. Res. 107, 537-544 (2003).

 

Contact information:

Jackson Presser

Jwp1985@epi.ufl.edu

850-628-4581