Category Archives: Women In Science

Citizen Scientist

Here’s a great chance for anyone, specifically teachers and students, to be citizen scientists and be part of a real-life, real-world science test.

The Cameron Siler lab at the University of Oklahoma and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is launching the Oklahoma Infectious Disease Citizen Science Project. Basically you would gather information from the state’s reptiles and amphibians. Researchers are specifically looking to track cases of chytridiomycosis or chytrid fungus. It’s a deadly disease in amphibians.

Jessa Watters is the collections manager for herpetology at the Sam Noble Museum, she says “The project is important because we know so little about this life-threatening disease for amphibians in Oklahoma. Understanding where it occurs in the state can help us track its progress and work with state officials to protect amphibians that may be particularly at risk due to already low population sizes within the state. In other parts of the United States and globally, chytrid fungus has been blamed for local extinctions.”

The lab is looking for help from teachers and students (or really anyone who wants to do a little science). All you need is access to a pond or stream. You’ll get a kit with all the equipment you need, teachers will get a packet, and you’ll be given resources online to to show how to collect the data and work in the field. “By having students help us collect the data, they will gain an appreciation for ponds and amphibians, and how things in their own neighborhoods are at risk. They will also learn how to correctly swab frogs in order to collect accurate and relevant scientific data” added Watters.

SIO has profiled Jessa Watters before. Below are the two stories we’ve produced showing what it’s like to do science in the field and why she likes herpetology.

 

Microbes and You

(Note: The following is a news release from the University of Oklahoma)

Norman, Okla.—University of Oklahoma anthropologists are studying the ancient and modern human microbiome and the role it plays in human health and disease.  By applying genomic and proteomic sequencing technologies to ancient human microbiomes, such as coprolites and dental calculus, as well as to contemporary microbiomes in traditional and industrialized societies, OU researchers are advancing the understanding of the evolutionary history of our microbial self and its impact on human health today.

Dr. Christina Warinner

Dr. Christina Warinner

Christina Warinner, professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, will present, “The Evolution and Ecology of Our Microbial Self,” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science panel on Evolutionary Biology Impacts on Medicine and Public Health, at 1:30 pm, Sunday, Feb. 14, in the Marriott Marshall Ballroom West, Washington, DC.  Warinner will discuss how major events, such as the invention of agriculture and the advent of industrialization, have affected the human microbiome.

“We don’t have a complete picture of the microbiome,” Warinner said. “OU research indicates human behavior over the past 2000 years has impacted the gut microbiome.  Microbial communities have become disturbed, but before we can improve our health, we have to understand our ancestral microbiome.  We cannot make targeted or informed interventions until we know that.  Ancient samples allow us to directly measure changes in the human microbiome at specific times and places in the past.”

Warinner and colleague, Cecil M. Lewis, Jr., co-direct OU’s Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research and the research focused on reconstructing the ancestral human oral and gut microbiome, addressing questions concerning how the relationship between humans and microbes has changed through time and how our microbiomes influence health and disease in diverse populations, both today and in the past.  Warinner and Lewis are leaders in the field of paleogenomics, and the OU laboratories house the largest ancient DNA laboratory in the United States.

Warinner is pioneering the study of ancient human microbiomes, and in 2014 she published the first detailed metagenomics and metaproteomic characterization of the ancient oral microbiome in the journal Nature Genetics.  In 2015, she published a study on the identification of milk proteins in ancient dental calculus and the reconstruction of prehistoric European dairying practices.  In the same year, she was part of an international team that published the first South American hunter-gatherer gut microbiome and identified Treponema as a key missing ancestral microbe in industrialized societies.

Warinner has published 17 peer-reviewed journal articles, 2 books, and 5 book chapters, and she serves on the Editorial Board of Scientific Reports.  Her research earned an Honorable Mention for the Omenn Prize, an annual prize for best article published on evolution, medicine and public health; and her ancient microbiome findings were named among the top 100 scientific discoveries of 2014 by Discover Magazine.

Warinner’s research has been featured in more than 75 news articles, including stories in Science, Cell, Scientific American, The New Scientist, Archaeology Magazine, the LA Times, the Guardian, WIRED UK, MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN, among others.  She has presented before the Royal Society of London and on behalf of the Leakey Foundation, and in 2015 she was invited to participate in a White House microbiome innovation forum sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  She has been featured in two documentaries, and her current work on ancient Nepal appears in the award-winning children’s book, Secrets of the Sky Caves.

Warinner was named a U.S. National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow in 2014, and she was awarded a TED Fellowship in 2012.  Her TED Talks on ancient dental calculus and the evolution of the human diet have been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  For more information on Warinner’s AAAS presentation on the “Evolution and the Ecology of the Microbial Self,”

Earthquake Test

Make plans Monday February 8th at 8am to watch a University of Oklahoma professor conduct a unique earthquake test.

Dr. Amy Cerato- courtesy The OU Daily

Dr. Amy Cerato- courtesy The OU Daily

Dr. Amy Cerato is an assistant professor in the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science. On Monday she’ll be conducting a one-of-a-kind shake test that could help people living in places where there are lots of earthquakes (aka, Oklahoma).

She’ll be looking at how helical piles shake during an earthquake. Helical piles are deep foundation elements that look like and are installed like a large steel soil screw to support the structure they hold. Helical piles are used in seismic areas, such as New Zealand and Japan, but they have not been widely used in the United States.

Here’s a story from Oklahoma City’s News 9 where Dr. Cerato explained what she’ll be doing.

The test could help engineers develop and build safer structures for those living in seismic zones.

Dr. Cerato will be conducting the test  on helical piles in seismic conditions at the University of California-San Diego’s Shake Table site beginning at 8 a.m. Oklahoma time this Monday, Feb. 8.

You can watch it live from this link.

 

Science Research in Oklahoma

There is so much science happening right under our noses here in eastern Oklahoma. The OSU Center for Health Sciences is just one example. You’ll find research into biomedical and forensic science, healthcare, medicine, and ,my personal favorite, paleontology.

The cool thing is OSU-CHS has a fantastic resource to help you stay on top of what they’re doing. They call it the Research Spotlight. There are videos and information all on kinds of topics. The video below is one example of the research taking place right here in Tulsa!

 

 

OU Scientist Named a National Academy of Inventors Fellow

A note from Dan- The following is a news release from the University of Oklahoma

Dr. Heloise Anne Pereira, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Heloise Anne Pereira, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Norman, Okla.—University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Professor Heloise Anne Pereira has been named a 2016 National Academy of Inventors Fellow, a high professional distinction awarded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

Pereira has been on the OU Health Sciences Center faculty for the past 23 years.  Throughout her career, she has been a leader in promoting entrepreneurship and collaboration between academia and the biotechnology industry.  Her research has resulted in numerous patents, and she has transitioned innovative technology from her academic research laboratory into a successful company for commercialization.

In her academic role, Pereira serves as associate dean of research in the OU College of Pharmacy, dean of the Graduate College, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and adjunct professor in cell biology and pathology.  She was awarded the Henry Zarrow Presidential Professorship for Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching from 2008-2012.  Pereira has published 34 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and has contributed to six book chapters.

Pereira is known internationally for her expertise on the naturally occurring protein CAP37 and has been invited to make numerous presentations on her research and commercialization experiences around CAP37-derived antimicrobial peptides.  She has received numerous awards, including the distinction of Fellow to both the American Association for Advancement of Science and American Association of College Pharmacy Academic Research Program.

Pereira has been studying the naturally occurring CAP37 protein for over 25 years.  Through her research, she identified and developed novel CAP37-derived antimicrobial peptides that have the ability to kill bacteria that are resistant to standard antibiotics.  Currently, she has 14 U.S. patents, 4 foreign patents and numerous pending U.S. and foreign applications directed to these novel peptides and their therapeutic uses in infections.

In 2005, Pereira founded the company Biolytx Pharmaceutical Corp., and she currently serves as Chief Scientific Officer for the company.  In the last 10 years, antibiotic-resistant infections have risen around the world, and new therapeutic strategies for treating antibiotic-resistant infections are urgently needed.  Biolytx is working to meet this unmet need and is in pre-clinical development of antibiotic peptides for use in treatment of ocular, topical and serious hospital-acquired infections.

Pereira has been awarded over $7 million in grants to support the commercialization of new antimicrobial therapeutics.  Two basic research grants totaling $3.7 million were awarded to Pereira for basic research on the naturally occurring CAP37 and CAP-37-derived peptides.  An additional $3 million from state-supported funds has been awarded to Pereira and to Biolytx for applied and translational research.  Recently, Biolytx received $1 million in private seed money for continued commercialization efforts.

Pereira will be inducted on April 15, 2016, as part of the Fifth Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexander, Va.  Commissioner for Patents Andrew Hirschfeld will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony.  Fellows will be presented with a special trophy, medal and rosette pin in honor of their outstanding accomplishments.

How Dust can help control Climate Change

Research by a University of Oklahoma scientist could lead to novel way to fight climate change. It has to do with dust.

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan and a team of researchers from the University of California Riverside, Florida State University, University of Leeds, Hampton University, and Cornell University have been looking at some really old, iron-rich dust deposits. Like 300-million year old dust from the late Paleozoic period.

(I’ve talked with Dr. Soreghan before, click here and here to learn more about her.)

Dr. Soreghan says Earth’s atmosphere was as dusty as it has ever been 300 million years ago. She says it’s important to study those dust deposits because of the impact they had back then on Earth’s climate.

Here’s why: dust carries iron- iron is a fertilizer for plants- plants use photosynthesis-photosynthesis removes carbon from the atmosphere and replaces it with oxygen.

Dr. Soreghan says deep-time dust contained a lot of iron which means it “…should have even larger consequences for burial of carbon.” As for the modern day, there’s talk of iron fertilization as a geoengineering scheme to control the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Dr. Soreghan says her study on deep-time events shines a light on how those types of geoengineering endeavors may work in the present day but, she says, more research is needed.

You can read more on the study in this brief write-up by Dr. Soreghan or here where the Geological Society of America has published an article. The National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society funded the research.

 

 

Someone has to love bugs

Dr. Katrina Menard is an entomologist, so she studies bugs (someone has to, right??). She was in Black Mesa this summer as part of the ExplorOlogy program. She was teaching the students how to develop a scientific study by taking a census of the local insect population.

So why entomology and why insects? Well at the 1:10 mark she explains what led her to a career studying the tiniest of creatures. At the 1:48 mark she talks about the importance of funding for scientific research and why the decision makers need to look at the long term results.

(For more on ExplorOlogy click here, here, here, and here.)

Tools for Digging up Dinos

Ever wonder what tools paleontologists use for digging up dinos? Wonder no more. Here’s the second video from my trip to the Oklahoma Panhandle. (Here’s the first.) It was part of the ExplorOlogy program sponsored by the Sam Noble Museum. We went to Kenton, OK and Black Mesa. It’s home to a ton of fossils from about 150 million years ago.

Dr. Lindsey Yann of the OSU Center for Health Sciences explains the main kinds of tools they use to dig up those fossils and why it’s important to study Oklahoma’s past.

Dr. Yann is the volunteer coordinator for the Vertebrate Paleontology lab in Tulsa. It’s a great place to volunteer if you want to see fossils up close but can’t make it to the Panhandle.

Thanks again to the scientists at the Sam Noble Museum and the OSU Center for Health Sciences for inviting me on this trip.

Digging for Dinos

Who doesn’t like digging for dinos? I had the chance this summer to go on a real-life, honest to goodness dinosaur dig in the Oklahoma Panhandle. It was in Black Mesa near Kenton, OK. That’s about thisclose to the New Mexico and Colorado state lines.

I was a guest of Dr. Anne Weil of the OSU Center for Health Sciences. (She’s been featured before here, here, and here.) The dig was part of the ExplorOlogy program run through the Sam Noble Museum in Norman. ExplorOlogy is all about helping Oklahoma students and teachers get a hands on look at the wonderful world of science. The kids spend the night in the Sam Noble Museum, they get an up close look at the OKC Zoo, and they go work in the field on actual science expeditions.

The dinosaur dig in Black Mesa is an example. The students were helping dig up some Apatosaurus bones. That was a huge dinosaur most of us grew up calling a Brontosaurus.

In addition to digging up the dinosaurs the students went hiking and took a census of the local insects in Black Mesa (video to come!!).

I can’t thank Dr. Weil and the staff at the Sam Noble Museum enough for letting me tag along.

If you know a student who is interested on going next summer click here to learn more about the program and how you can register.

 

Ancient Dental Plaque

A University of Oklahoma scientist is perfecting the art (and by art I mean science) of studying ancient dental plaque. We’ve highlighted Dr. Christina Warinner before when her research gained national recognition. Now she’s featured in a fantastic video produced by Illumina. The company describes itself as, “a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function.” 

Dr. Warinner likes to say she’s an “archaeologist of the invisible”. She studies the dental plaque from teeth that are thousands of years old. Bacteria covers that dental plaque, from that she’s able to learn all kinds of things about the person who once used that tooth. Where they lived, what they ate, whether they were healthy or not, etc…

This video is an amazing look inside the process.