Tag Archives: university of florida

Could dust bring the next pandemic as quickly as birds?

5 Nov
Calli Breil is a master's student in the science and health communications program at the University of Florida, and is planning to graduate  in 2014.  Calli is particularly interested in writing about pathogens.  You can find her at callibreil.com, on LinkedInhttp://www.linkedin.com/in/callibreil and https://twitter.com/CalliBreil.

Calli Breil is a master’s student in the science and health communications program at the University of Florida, and is planning to graduate in 2014.  Calli is particularly interested in writing about pathogens and disease.

By Calli Breil/Contributing blogger 

(blog, Twitter, LinkedIn)

Dust and dirt can travel thousands of miles, across oceans, land and just about anywhere the wind can carry them.  In fact,  50 million metric tons of dust travel from Africa to Florida every August and September.  The common equivalent to 50 million metric tons is 100 empire state buildings!

So, we get a lot of dust from Africa, who cares?

Well, if we aren’t going to worry about the potentially toxic dust, perhaps we should worry about the microorganisms that cling on to dust particles for a free trip.

People have known for many years that microorganisms can travel the world through dust plumes. But, the real question is, “What is the risk?”

Although not equivocally proven, there have been theories that the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England in 2001 could have been caused from these dust plumes.

Why could it have been the dust plumes? 

Well, that year there happened to be an extraordinary amount of dust (that could potentially carry disease) traveling to northern England.

Why couldn’t it just have been a normal outbreak of the disease? 

England hadn’t seen the disease for years.  The outbreak also happened to break out ten days after the dust plumes hit – the exact incubation period for the infection.

If you doubt how troublesome the outbreak was, just know that it cost $1 billion dollars to slaughter the animals that were (or could have been) infected, as well as the massive amounts of revenue lost.

The risk is no laughing matter.

Topsoil across the globe can carry millions of bacteria, hundreds of thousands of fungi, and millions of viruses per gram of soil.

Once this soil is tossed into the air, it is like a salad of potential harm.  After all, about 50 percent of childhood diseases are respiratory (Griffin, 2007).

Some argue (and they would be right) that we don’t actually know if these dust plumes cause disease.

It is highly speculative, because there is no concrete evidence that ties the dust plumes to a disease outbreak – just very strong correlations.  But others have been much more… direct… about their conclusions.

For example, the Guardian reported that dust storms and plumes are “thought to  be responsible for spreading lethal meningitis spores through semi-arid central-arid Africa, where up to 250,000 people, particularly children, contract the disease each year.”

The same article brings up the fair point that scientists are now believing there is a link between dust and influenza, Sars, foot-and-mouth (as I have mentioned above) and other respiratory diseases.

Fortunately, new research is trying to find what other diseases could be transmitted through dust plumes.

For example, Andrew Schuerger’s DART (Dust at Altitude Recovery Technology) has helped find that pathogens responsible for problems in wheat, cacao beans, elm, flower and fruit rots and nail infections diseases are all found in these dust plumes.  In fact, some pathogens that are seen in pulmonary infections are also found in dust.

The real question is, “Do these pathogens get us sick?”

After all, there are tons of pathogens all around us. But not all of them are dangerous.

The point is that these dust plumes could be responsible for many outbreaks that we haven’t discovered the cause of, such as the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England.  And we won’t know until scientists, like Schuerger at the University of Florida, find out what the real risk is to us, our communities and our industries.

References:

Vidal, J. (2009).  Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide.  The Guardian.  Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/27/dust-storms-diseases-sydney

Griffin, D.W. (2007).  Atmospheric movement and microorganisms in clouds of desert dust and implications for human health.  Clinical microbiology reviews.  P. 459-477.  Doi: 10.1128/CMR.00039-06

Special thanks to Andrew Schuerger, who works in the plant pathogens department at the University of Florida, for sparing time to talk at the Science Writers Conference 2013. 

Breast cancer vaccines are nothing new

4 Nov
Dorothy Hagmajer is a sophomore studying public relations at the University of Florida. This story confirmed her interest in health sciences and sparked an interest in health reporting. Hagmajer considers herself a novice writer, but expert dog-petter.

Dorothy Hagmajer is a sophomore studying public relations at the University of Florida. This story confirmed her interest in health sciences and sparked an interest in health reporting. Hagmajer considers herself a novice writer, but expert dog-petter.

 

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 Dorothy Hagmajer 

“Am I going to die?”

That was Susan Foster’s first question when her doctor told her she had breast cancer.

Thirty-nine radiation treatments and nine chemotherapy treatments later, Foster had her answer.

In 2013, an estimated 232,000 American women are asking themselves that same question, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women, surpassed only by lung cancer.

It’s facts like these that have spurred the search for a breast cancer vaccine.

Recently, a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio set 2015 as a tentative year for the beginning of clinical trials on a vaccine they developed, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The vaccine is intended to create an immune response triggered by certain proteins expressed only in breast tumors – specifically, alpha-lactalbumin, according to research published in 2010 in Nature Medicine.

The protein is typically expressed during late pregnancy and lactation, and appears in high amounts in the majority of breast cancer tumors.

Following a series of trials with mice that were genetically predisposed to grow mouse breast tumors, the vaccine appears to be ready for its first steps to becoming a reality.

Sort of. Continue reading

Warning: One all-nighter can throw off circadian rhythms

30 Oct
Kayla Hunt is junior at the University of Florida majoring in Public Relations. Wanting to experiment writing on science and health and environmental topics, she decided Layman's Terms Media would be the perfect outlet. In her free time, she keeps  an informal blog titled Bloggish Gibberish that chronicles her life experiences as a college student.

Kayla Hunt is junior at the University of Florida majoring in Public Relations. Wanting to experiment writing on science and health and environmental topics, she decided Layman’s Terms Media would be the perfect outlet. In her free time, she keeps an informal blog titled Bloggish Gibberish that chronicles her life experiences as a college student.

 

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.

UF physician gives tips on how to reverse insomnia

By Kayla Hunt

With the pressure of balancing academics, a social life and health, many students find it hard to make time to sleep. Experts warn that one all-nighter can throw off one’s sleep cycle, which can result in insomnia.

Dr. Mary Wagner, a physician at the University of Florida’s Sleep Center, said circadian rhythms – which serve as the internal clock that tells us when to wake up and when to fall asleep – are to blame for this.

There is a way to move circadian rhythms to a time where it agrees with a person’s daily schedule, but it takes a couple of weeks depending on the amount of change in one’s schedule, Wagner said.

“When you try to change your sleep schedule, it could be done by going to sleep and waking up roughly 15 minutes before your usual time,” Wagner said.

When accustomed to the original 15-minute change, add another 15 minutes and repeat until the desired time is achieved, Wagner said.

She also said no weekend exceptions should be given because your body will naturally want to stick to the later time again.

Circadian rhythms are a biological process that occurs in roughly 24-hour intervals, but our bodies naturally push these rhythms back over time.

“This makes it easier to push bed time later rather than sooner,” Wagner said.

Insomnia, which results from your daily schedule disagreeing with your rhythms, is the most common sleep complaint among Americans, according to the International Sleep Foundation.

“When insomnia goes untreated, it causes the person to have an increased risk of obesity, depression and ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the reason people find it so easy to stay awake for a long time is because of how accessible distractions are made.

“The top causes for difficulty sleeping are artificial light exposure, social interactions and eating,” Wagner said, “but the internet and worrying are also major culprits.” Continue reading

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.

‘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

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

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs”

20 Sep

lovebugs_other_lg

If you live in Florida, you’ve probably already noticed that the second annual swarm of love bugs is here again. So I felt this was an appropriate  repost. If you already haven’t read more about these pesky creatures and why their important to our ecosystem!

Summer Science explained: 

Summer Science explained is a new blog series on Layman’s Terms Media. Each week, phenomena that are unique to summer time will be broken down and explained. I am currently taking suggestions for topics, so if there is something you’ve always wondered about feel free to contact me and pitch an idea!

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The bugs we love to hate

Miss Plecia is all dolled up. She has been stuffing herself full of organic material and nectar in her swampy-syle pad for the past 20 days with hopes of finding her lifelong mate. Continue reading

UF researcher says T cells the answer to cancer vaccines

8 Aug

Editorial note: This is reprint of a press release I wrote for UF Health News and Communications, and it was my first whack at a press release. But I can tell you this guy is pretty interesting if you decide to write about him!

T-cellsJohn “Bobby” Goulding, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida, is in a scramble to help create safe and effective vaccines to prevent and fight human respiratory viruses.

While past vaccines focused solely on triggering antibody responses to fight the viruses, Goulding and his colleagues are shifting the emphasis to T cells, otherwise known as white blood cells, because of their ability to target specific pieces of a virus.

Figuring out how to create an army of these virus-fighters will aid in the creation of a new generation of vaccines that are safe and long-lived and that target viruses we don’t have existing vaccines against. He recently received the prestigious Thomas H. Maren Junior Investigators Postdoctoral Award to fund his research. The $50,000 award was founded by UF’s first chairman of pharmacology, Thomas H. Maren, M.D., to help postdoctoral students in the UF College of Medicine further their scientific goals.

Rapidly mutating viruses in the human respiratory tract account for millions of deaths worldwide each year. Because invasive attackers such as avian flu and others mutate so quickly, the antibody response prompted by current vaccines is often not strong enough, which is why the flu shot is seasonal and not a one-time-fix-all.

Goulding explains that while antibody vaccines have been very successful in eradicating certain viruses, most notably the virus that causes smallpox, they have not been as effective in rapidly mutating viruses or retroviruses, such as HIV, which can integrate into someone’s DNA.

“Antibodies by definition can really only bind and protect against viruses that are outside the cell and prevent them from getting inside,” Goulding said. “But if the viruses change so that your antibodies can no longer recognize them and gain entry to your body, an antibody response is unlikely to be able to protect you from being infected.”

T cells, which are a type of white blood cell, work a bit differently, he said. They can kill a virus that has already infected a cell, whereas antibodies cannot do this.

“T cells are cells of the immune system that have evolved to be really picky at attacking a very specific part of viruses, bacteria or cancers,” Goulding said. “These cells recognize something that is foreign to the body and only react against a real specific protein or peptide of the virus, and that’s kind of their job or duty.”

Goulding studies a subset of T cells, called CD8+ T cells. Once the pieces of a virus are mopped up, digested and presented on the surface of certain cells in the body, the CD8+ T cells recognize the chopped up virus bits and begin cloning themselves so they can rapidly and effectively kill cells that become infected with the virus.

“Your body has essentially generated an army that’s really great at recognizing a really specific type of virus and killing infected cells,” Goulding said.

He explains that this army would then be waiting to attack if a human actually came in contact with the virus later. Goulding wants to figure out how to generate large numbers of these virus-specific T cells while preventing the vaccine from causing unwanted side effects. T cells need to be presented with digested virus in an inflammatory environment before they can begin cloning themselves.  However, this inflammatory environment can cause side effects in people injected with the vaccine.

Goulding wants to trick T cells into thinking they are in an inflammatory environment without disrupting the body and risking unwanted side effects. By thinking something is wrong, the cells will form the army and wait patiently until the foreign host attacks. He is currently looking at a group of receptors, called TNF receptors, which are part of the main decision-making team telling the T cells whether to multiply and wait ready to ambush an invading target virus.

“So the premise is that if we understand those signals from the receptors, we can utilize that as a system in which you can control the number of T cells — like in a vaccine,” Goulding said. “We could then induce a positive signal and boost the T cell response. We could, in theory, interfere with that interaction and produce lots of CD8+ T cells against any type of virus we want.”

Due to aging populations, increasing antibiotic resistance and public skepticism about vaccines, Goulding says the public health impact of respiratory viruses and other infectious diseases are increasing.

“The ultimate goal of all of this research is really to develop a robust understanding of how vaccines can be utilized to generate really good T cell responses that are required to protect against certain types of infections or cancers,” Goulding said. “The hope is to understand the activating and inhibitory signals that the TNF receptors give to the T cells. Scientists can use that to their advantage and design the next generation of safe vaccines.”

Media Contact: April Frawley Birdwell