Tag Archives: Oklahoma State University

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.

Geology Students Study Tectonic Rifts

note: the following is a news release from Oklahoma State University

Four Oklahoma State University geology students traveled to Malawi in Africa to study tectonic rifts last summer thanks to a 2014 grant from the National Science Foundation.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Sam Dawson, from Davidson, North Carolina; Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma; Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma, and Dr. Estella Atekwana study tectonic rifts in Malawi.

Dr. Estella Atekwana, geology department head, and Dr. Daniel Laó-Dávila, a geology professor, took four students to Karonga, Malawi, to explore the East African Rift that extends for thousands of miles along the continent’s edge bounded by the Indian Ocean.

“People don’t know what rifts are,” Atekwana said. “There used to be one big continent, called Pangea; it’s because of rifts that the continents broke apart. Malawi has a young rift system and is the go-to place to study the entire rift process.”

The grant allowed the Boone Pickens School of Geology to create an international program for its students, sending a total of 12 students in groups of four for three years. The trips allow the students to collect geological data and gain cultural experience outside of the university.

“The last thing I was expecting was a culture shock,” said Sam Dawson, a graduate student from Davidson, North Carolina. “Seeing what life was like in a developing country was eye-opening. The people are so happy. I saw some kids playing with simple toys for hours on end.”

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Landscape view of Karonga, Malawi, where the students studied tectonic rifts.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Other students included undergraduates Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma; and Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Clappe has since enrolled in the graduate program. The trip lasted from July 14 to Aug. 11, with students working five or six days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This international opportunity will help make the students more competitive for job opportunities after graduation, according to Atekwana.

“It was a win-win experience,” she said. “Students can do research from the beginning of a rift and learn a lot. They don’t just learn about the science, but what it takes to collect it, to learn new cultures, meet new people. Students need to be competitive in the global economy. This gives them the advantage because they’ve now been there and done that.”

Karonga is a small town in northern Malawi, with a population similar to Stillwater. In 2009, there was a major earthquake in the town. Atekwana said the earthquake meant the rift was still active, so they needed to find the earthquake zone and image it.

“It’s sort of like a CT scan but of the underground,” she said.

In previous years, the geology department has led trips to Zambia and is looking into more places in the future, including Uganda and Ethiopia. But Laó-Dávila says there are other places in the U.S. that can be explored as well.

“There’s an ancient rift in Oklahoma not many people know about,” he said. “It’s in the southwest part of the state by the Wichita Mountains. Other places we can explore are the Rio Grande Rift, in New Mexico, and the Mid Continent Rift System that spans across Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. It’s one of the oldest examples of a rift, at about 1.1 billion years old.”

But the trip wasn’t all work and no play. The group took trips to see different national parks in Malawi, including the Nyika National Park, a major tourist destination for the country. The group also toured the Cultural and Museum Center Karonga as well as going on safari rides.

“I woke up the next morning to see zebras out of my window,” Dawson said. “So that was pretty cool. I enjoyed getting to learn more about the geologic and cultural history at the museum as well. And there were so many beautiful sites to see.”

Some of the struggles the group had throughout the trip included living conditions and Internet connectivity. The hotel they stayed at cost $6 a night. Dawson said sometimes he didn’t have a shower, and if he did, there was only cold water available. Other problems included the electricity going on and off and waiting days to get Internet connectivity.

“That made it difficult for us to record our data or get connected to our resources on campus when we needed to.”

In the end, the experience was one that Atekwana believes changed the students’ lives. She said it showed them how people get by with a tenth of what Americans have and to learn how to get good scientific data from it.

“I recommend people not being closed minded as far as interacting with the culture goes,” Dawson said. “I did not expect to become such great friends with our driver, Kennedy. He taught us some of the language, including some pick up lines for us to use. We paid him $30 a day for a month, and he said that money would pay for his entire living expenses for six months. If I go back, I’d definitely try to find him again.”

The students reported on their trip at the American Geophysical Union’s 2015 Fall Meeting December 14-18, where 24,000 attendees met to present research and discover more about the latest happenings in their fields. For more about the Boone Pickens School of Geology, visit geology.okstate.edu.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Sam Dawson, from Davidson, North Carolina; Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma.

Science Café

 

Here’s a great chance to learn about Oklahoma’s amazing raptors. Oklahoma State University and the Stillwater Public Library are teaming up for what they’re calling Science Café OSU.

They have two programs planned for the coming weeks, both will be talking about red-tailed hawks and golden eagles.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle  

 

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

OSU associate professor Jim Lish and doctorate candidate Megan Judkins will be giving the presentations. They’ll also be bringing along birds as guests.

Lish has been researching red-tail hawks for more than 40 years. He holds three degrees in wildlife ecology including a Master of Science and a doctorate degree from OSU. Judkins is a Choctaw tribal member and assistant manager at the Grey Snow Eagle House. She is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in integrative biology at OSU. Her research focuses on the genomics of bald and golden eagles.

“The Payne County Audubon Society will have copies of Dr. Lish’s new book ‘Winter’s Hawk: Red-tails on the Southern Plains’ available for purchase and signing at both programs,” said Karen Neurohr, OSU Library professor and Science Café coordinator. “Ms. Judkins is bringing Ann, a red-tail hawk and RB, a golden eagle to the programs.”

The first program is Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Stillwater Public Library Auditorium. The program will be repeated Nov. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Peggy V. Helmerich Browsing Room of the Oklahoma State University Library.

Everyone is welcome, you don’t need to have a science background to attend.

Remembering Dr. Marvin Stone

The state of Oklahoma has lost a talented scientist and researcher. Dr. Marvin Stone and his wife, Bonnie, were killed when a car crashed into the crowd at the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade on October 24th.

Dr. Stone served on the faculty at OSU for 24 years. He worked in the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. His wife also worked at OSU as coordinator of Student Information Systems operations and training for OSU Institutional Research and Information Management.

Dr. Stone’s research focused on “…international equipment communication and diagnostic protocol standards and high-speed, selective, point-specific field application of chemicals.”

The university has a published a wonderful web page dedicated to Dr. Stone and his wife.

You can also click here to donate to the Marvin and Bonnie Stone Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Two others died in the tragedy and dozens more were injured. You can click here to learn more about the victims and ways to help their families and the Stillwater community.

OSU Drone Makes Historic Flight

 

Ben Loh flies the unmanned aerial vehicle. Courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Ben Loh flies the unmanned aerial vehicle. Courtesy: Oklahoma State University

The pic above shows a drone developed by OSU grads and professors making an historic flight inside the U.S. Senate. (Kinda looks like the remote that Luke Skywalker used to train with in Star Wars!!)

The drone is called ATLAS or All Terrain Land and Air Sphere System. It was developed by Ben Loh, an Oklahoma State University graduate. This flight took place in a Senate hearing room on July 31st. It’s the first time an unmanned vehicle took flight inside the U.S. Senate. It was one of the main attractions during the Senate Aerospace Caucus.

Dyan Gibbens, CEO of Unmanned Cowboys. Courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Dyan Gibbens, CEO of Unmanned Cowboys. Courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Loh, Dyan Gibbons, and two other OSU professors started Unmanned Cowboys  in 2014. The company develops drones and “autonomous aerial vehicle technologies”.

ATLAS can fly, hover, roll on the ground, and take flight again. Loh and Gibbens say it works great inside buildings and that ATLAS is perfect for search and rescue situations.

During the caucus Gibbens briefed Senate staff about different ways drones can be used. She was also on a panel with other industry executives.

“We are grateful to Sen. Patty Murray’s office and the AIA for coordinating a drone flight in the Senate,” Gibbens said. “It was exhilarating to fly at the Aerospace Caucus and demonstrate ATLAS as a safe choice for indoor usage.”

Audience members inspect ATLAS. Courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Audience members inspect ATLAS. Courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Summer of Science

How about a summer of science for your high schooler (or 8th grader)?!?! OK Higher Ed is offering a fantastic opportunity for students who will be in 8th-12th grade next year. It’s called the Summer Academies.

A total of 26 academies will be held at 17 college campuses across the state throughout the summer.  Topics include biology, engineering, math, aeronautics, meteorology…you know, all the STEM stuff. Best of all, it’s FREE!!!

Check out these quotes from former academy attendees courtesy of OKMath.

“No field of study has started a fire within me like architecture and interior design has. Your enthusiasm for my ideas and designs was new and exciting for me.”

“This is the best thing I will ever do this whole entire summer.”

“College doesn’t seem as unimaginable as before. I will definitely be going to college.”

OKMath also reports, “a greater percentage of Summer Academies students go to college immediately after high school than compared to other students.” Also, “Summer Academies students earn degrees at a higher rate than other students.”

Click here to register and see a full list of academies being offered. You can also call 1-800-858-1840 for more information.

And remember, it’s FREE!!

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How you can help find Fossils

If you’ve ever wanted to work with fossils and help paleontologists make new discoveries this is the story for you. The Vertebrate Paleontology lab at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa needs volunteers. You don’t need to have any experience, just a love for science. You’ll also get to work with Dr. Anne Weil.

Volunteers work Wednesday-Friday, 9 to 5 sifting through rock and soil looking for fossils.

Click here for a more information, as well as how to get in touch with the volunteer coordinator.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Anne Weil

Dr. Anne Weil is a vertebrate paleontologist at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. Her specialty is looking at a “lost branch of mammalia” called multituberculates. They lived roughly 180 to 30 million years ago. Here’s an example.

She started college wanting to be a novelist but soon found herself taking geology and paleontology courses. Next thing you know she’s paleontologist researching fossilized mammal teeth.

She’s an OK scientist.

Born To Do Science

(A note from Dan: Born to do Science actually meets every other Sunday. Here’s the schedule.)

Monty Harper knows how to make science fun. He sings. He writes songs. He plays guitar. He puts it all together to produce songs about science for kids.

But wait, there’s more…he also hosts science program for kids at the Stillwater Public Library called Born to do Science. The first in this year’s series was last Sunday featuring Allan Axelrod, a scientist with Oklahoma State University who is working on how to teach computers to predict. The series continues on Sundays through February. The topics include the Higgs Boson, ancient water fleas, and how the body regulates its chemistry.

It’s free and lots of fun. Take your kids, you’ll both enjoy it.

 

Women In Science

Have you seen the commercial that depicts a little girl growing up, along the way getting more and more discouragement about pursuing science? She’s told not to get her dress dirty or to be careful and let her brother handle a power drill. At the end, it looks like she’s taking notes about a science fair but, really, she’s just putting on lipstick. It packs a powerful message about girls, science, and societal expectations.

The National Science Foundation conducted a study that found girls and boys have the same attitude about science in elementary school. By fourth grade 66% of the girls and 68% of the boys showed an interest in science. But, to me, the telling aspect of the study found that both boys and girls in the second grade draw a scientist as a man, specifically as a white man.

Research done by the National Girls Collaborative Project showed that women are more likely to go into the biological sciences as opposed to computer sciences or engineering. As an example, 44% of the chemists and material scientists in the United States are women but only 4% of the mechanical engineers are women.

So why the discrepancy? Researchers say there are number of factors from cultural norms to ethnicity to economics. I’ve interviewed some very successful female scientists in the past few months. In the video above they explain what they think needs to happen to get more women in science and why we need to take a good long look in the mirror and make some serious societal changes.