Tag Archives: Bewley

OSU Scientist Reconstructs Four-billion year old (yes, 4-billion) Genetic Code

The following is a news release from Oklahoma State University

(STILLWATER, Okla., August 9, 2016) – An Oklahoma State University microbiologist and a colleague have reported progress in understanding the evolutionary origin of the genetic code used by all known cells. The scientists reconstructed the genetic code of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), believed by some scientists to be the origin of all life on Earth.

Wouter Hoff, with OSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and Peter van der Gulik, with CWI, the Netherland’s national research institute for mathematics and computer science, published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE. The evolutionary origin of the genetic code has remained a scientific puzzle since its original discovery in the 1960s, which was a seminal breakthrough in understanding the molecular basis of life.

OSU Microbiologist Dr. Wouter Hoff

OSU Microbiologist Dr. Wouter Hoff

LUCA is the proposed single-cell organism that gave rise to the current three domains of life: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya that includes plants and animals. It is believed LUCA lived four billion years ago and may have developed in the extreme conditions surrounding deep sea vents where magma rises to the surface. The properties of LUCA and its possible resemblance to present day organisms are currently attracting intense scientific attention and mainstream news coverage. An influential, but hotly debated, notion is that modern Archaea living in extreme environments most resemble LUCA.

“Our reconstruction of LUCA’s genetic code reveals that the evolution of the set of transfer RNA molecules that are at the center of the genetic code was already almost complete in LUCA,” said Hoff. “Our work reveals that the set of transfer RNA molecules in LUCA closely resembles that in present day Archaea. In this respect, the primordial character referred to in the name of Archaea seems very appropriate.”

To obtain their results, Hoff and van der Gulik used recent genomic and biochemical data in combination with a largely ignored but central biochemical regularity in the genetic code.

“While many questions regarding the origin of the genetic code remain to be addressed, this publication makes a clear step in elucidating part of the evolutionary development of this process that is so important for all living organisms,” Hoff said.

Want more? Click here to read the article Hoff published.

Keystone Ancient Forest

The Keystone Ancient Forest is one of the gems of northeastern Oklahoma. The forest is located in Sand Springs and is home to trees that are hundreds of years old. It’s made up of cross timbers which are some of the toughest trees in existence which is why it’s never been developed.

The forest shows what Oklahoma (or at least the Sand Springs area) looked like well before civilization began exploring it.

It’s a great place to go for a walk and take a step back in time but it does have limited hours and pets are not allowed.

It’s only open on select days throughout the month. For more information on the Forest click here for the city of Sand Springs.

 

Climate Change Guide

Earth is getting hotter. There’s really no doubt about it. This past January, for example, “was the planet’s most unusually warm month since we started measuring temperature in 1880.”

The misinformation out there about climate change is maddening and time consuming to go against. Thankfully there’s a great resource available to help sift through the BS.

It’s a YouTube channel called Scientists on Climate Change. You’ll find a number of videos there with interviews from actually climate scientists. These are the people who know what they’re talking about. These are not politicians or wishful thinkers. I highly recommend it if for no other reason than to see what real-life scientists are studying.

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,”

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.

Oklahoma Climate Center Receives Major Award

A climate science center at the University of Oklahoma was recently given a major award by the Department of Interior.

The South Central Climate Science Center is on OU’s Research Campus. It was named a recipient of Dept. of Interior’s 2015 Environmental Achievement Award for “Climate Science and Partnerships—Increasing the Tribal Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation.”

The University of Oklahoma says the SCCSC received the award because of, “… its partnerships with other agencies to develop programs for building tribal capabilities and conducting climate science research.  The Center is a consortium codirected by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Oklahoma.  Consortium members include OU, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab, Louisiana State University, Oklahoma State University and Texas Tech University.”

I asked Kim Winton, the director of the South Central Climate Science Center, what this award means. She says, “This award recognizes a Departmental individual or team that has shown consistent leadership in identifying the impacts climate change will have on the Department, acting to integrate that information into their work, and sharing their experience to help others prepare.”

The award recognizes what’s being done to work with Oklahoma tribes to spread awareness and prepare for climate change. Winton says the SCCSC provides training for tribes, “…Vulnerability Assessments, and Adaptation Planning. We also do lots of things for school age children such as classroom activities, festivals etc. and provide hands-on demonstrations of how CO2 makes things warmer, and how tree rings tell us about the climate history.”

Winton says Oklahoma’s native tribes can help with climate change by doing what everyone needs to do such as, “…decrease fossil fuel use, build using sustainable materials, etc.”

Adventures on Turkey Mountain

Turkey Mountain is a popular place to hike, walk, or ride a bike. Thousands of people go there every year but I wonder how many have stopped to think about the science that’s all around them.

Dr. Stanley Rice recently gave me a personal science tour of Turkey Mountain. He showed me tree fossils and explained that Turkey Mountain is the only place in Oklahoma where a certain oak tree grows. This just shows that science is everywhere. It’s also why you’ll often find me checking out rocks, I’m looking for fossils and evidence of ancient Earth.

This is important-If you find fossils on Turkey Mountain please do not remove them.

(Dr. Rice has been featured before on SIO…click here to see his impersonation of Charles Darwin.)

 

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.