Category: Science & Technology

BUSM Researchers Show an Oncolytic Virus Switches Off Cancer Cell Survival Signal

December 1st, 2010 in News Releases, School of Medicine, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Jenny Eriksen, 617-638-6841 | jeriksen@bu.edu

(Boston) – Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have identified a mechanism by which specific viruses acting as oncolytic agents can enter and kill cancer cells. This finding, which is currently featured in an online edition of the Journal of Virology, could help lead to the development of more targeted treatments against many types of cancer.

The study was conducted by Ewan F. Dunn, a postdoctoral fellow, under the direction of John H. Connor, an assistant professor of microbiology at BUSM.

The virus, known as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), is being developed in the Connor lab and in other international research laboratories to kill cancer cells. VSV is not a significant human pathogen.

VSV is sensitive to the innate immune response, which causes lymphocytes to release interferon and protect the body from developing an infection. Cancer cells lose the ability to respond in that way, said Dunn. “When cancer cells transform, they become non-responsive, leaving them vulnerable to viruses attacking the cell and its function.”

Previous research has shown that a major signaling pathway in cancer cells, called the AKT signaling pathway, is frequently turned on. AKT signaling is a cell survival signal, helping to keep the cancer cells alive. The team demonstrated was that VSV can switch off that signaling pathway, which suggests that a single viral protein could play a major role in cancer cell death.

“This study showed the important role of VSV in killing cancer cells through turning off a major survival signal,” added Connor. “The identification of this mechanism is fundamental to understanding how VSV and other oncolytic viruses function.”

This research study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Boston University Supports Davis Phinney Foundation’s Exercise-Focused Tools to Support Parkinson’s Patients

October 19th, 2010 in Athletics, Health & Medicine, Humanities/Social Science, News Releases, Sargent College, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Lauren Davalla, 617-358-1688 | davalla@bu.edu

(Boulder, CO) – The Davis Phinney Foundation (http://www.davisphinneyfoundation.org), a non-profit foundation whose mission is to provide information and tools that help people to live well with Parkinson’s disease, today announced the availability of a new exercise DVD: “Exercise and Parkinson’s: Questions and Answers from the Experts.” This DVD features a panel of movement disorder experts in the fields of physical therapy and exercise physiology who answer common questions about exercise and Parkinson’s disease, discuss the research related to exercise and offer tips and tools designed to reinforce the importance of exercise as a core strategy for living well at all ages and stages of Parkinson’s.

The new DVD is the latest effort by the Davis Phinney Foundation to identify and respond to unmet needs for information and tools within the Parkinson’s community. Surveys conducted by the Foundation continue to demonstrate the communications gap between people with Parkinson’s disease and their treatment providers concerning exercise. Among some of the findings: while 81 percent of people with Parkinson’s surveyed said they believed that exercise can slow disease progression, less than half (40 percent) reported discussing their exercise with their physician within six months of diagnosis, and almost one in five (19 percent) said they never discussed exercise with their physician. In those cases where exercise has been part of the discussion, patients leave with many unanswered questions regarding the types and frequency of exercise that will be most helpful for them.

“Exercise and Parkinson’s: Questions and Answers from the Experts” features leading movement disorder experts in the field of physical therapy and exercise – Terry Ellis, PT, Ph.D., NCS, Boston University; Mark A. Hirsch, Ph.D., Carolinas Rehabilitation/Carolinas Medical Center; Matthew Ford, PT, M.A., Ph.D., The University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Lee Dibble, PT, Ph.D., ATC, University of Utah – and people living with Parkinson’s disease who demonstrate the importance of exercise and share insight on incorporating exercise into a Parkinson’s disease treatment plan. The DVD is provided at no charge for people enrolled in the Foundation’s Every Victory Counts™ self-care management program (www.everyvictorycounts.org), which connects people with Parkinson’s disease to a wealth of valuable educational materials, including an interactive manual that empowers people to live well with Parkinson’s disease today and take a more active role in managing their care.

“Exercise should be part of the standard of care for Parkinson’s disease as the growing body of scientific evidence strongly demonstrates the effectiveness of exercise as an essential tool for maintaining balance, mobility and daily quality of life, not to mention the possibility that exercise might actually protect nerve cells and slow disease progression in the brain,” said Dr. Ellis.

Rob Biddle, 54, who is featured in the DVD training with Dr. Hirsch, follows an exercise plan that consists of spin classes, resistance training, treadmill walking and balance training at his local YMCA. “I am committed to this exercise routine to address my Parkinson’s symptoms and now feel better than when I was 30 years old,” Biddle said. “I am convinced that if I continue exercising, it will help me maintain my strength and balance longer. I would encourage anyone with Parkinson’s disease to begin an exercise program.”

In addition to the “Exercise and Parkinson’s: Questions and Answers from the Experts” DVD, the Davis Phinney Foundation has also developed “Top 10 Tips” guide for exercising with Parkinson’s and the research that supports them. Among the tips (a full list is available at www.davisphinneyfoundation.org/tips):

• Exercise is medicine. Exercise has been proven to build a healthier heart, lungs, and muscles, boost metabolism, prevent diabetes, and reduces disability. New research suggests that exercise may even provide neuroprotection – slowing the progression of Parkinson’s in the brain by safeguarding vulnerable nerve cells from damage and degeneration.

• Have fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick with it. Do something you like. Dance, yoga, tai chi, cycling and strength exercises have all been shown to help with physical and cognitive symptoms of Parkinson’s. Also try exercising with a group. Research shows that people stick with exercise when there is encouragement and an expectation for you to show up.

“The Davis Phinney Foundation is pleased to provide these resources as a direct response to needs identified in the Parkinson’s community”, said Amy Howard, Executive Director of the Davis Phinney Foundation. “Research is now supporting the experience of people living with Parkinson’s – if you exercise you will feel better and you will positively affect many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s – including movement, depression and sleep. It’s critical that people educate themselves and make exercise a core component of their care.”

For additional Every Victory Counts program and registration information, visit http://www.everyvictorycounts.org or call 1-877-279-5277. All program proceeds support Davis Phinney Foundation-funded Parkinson’s research and educational programs.

Davis Phinney FoundationThe Davis Phinney Foundation was created in 2004 by cycling legend Davis Phinney and is dedicated to helping people with Parkinson’s disease live well today. The foundation’s major initiatives include: The Every Victory Counts™ Program, developed by movement disorder experts to encourage living well with Parkinson’s; Victory Summit series of symposia, which bring leading experts into local communities to share the latest advances in science, care and inspire those affected by the disease to celebrate the daily victories in their lives; and the funding of research focused on exercise, speech and other quality of life therapies. Learn more by visiting the web site: http://www.davisphinneyfoundation.org.

BU, Brown and UC Irvine receive $3 million NSF grant to study security, privacy, and economic utility of cloud computing

October 15th, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – Computer scientists from Boston University, Brown University and the University of California, Irvine, will collaborate on a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the anticipated amount of $3 million to investigate “trustworthy interaction in the cloud.” The cloud refers to Internet-based outsourced computation (popularly know as cloud computing), whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand.

As one of the most promising emerging concepts in information technology, outsourced computation is transforming how IT is consumed and managed, yielding improved cost efficiencies and delivering flexible, on-demand scalability. However, despite the relatively fast growth and increased adoption of clouds, aspects related to their security, privacy, and economic value proposition remain largely unanswered and are regarded by some technology experts as impediments to broader acceptance of this approach to computing.

“Developing the right mechanisms for the specification and verification of trust-enhancing service-level agreements in the cloud will avert conflicts among cloud market stakeholders,” says Azer Bestavros, lead principal investigator and professor of computer science at Boston University. “Doing so will also improve the utility and hardness of our cyber-infrastructure, with significant benefit to our economy and society.”

“As more and more data is being stored in the cloud, keeping that data private is becoming critical, especially for applications in finance and medicine,” says Michael Goodrich, principal investigator and Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California, Irvine.

The project supported by the NSF grant will address these concerns by examining the feasibility of extending cloud service-level agreements to cover aspects such as integrity of outsourced services, information leakage control, and fair market pricing. The project also will explore mechanisms that verify trust-enhancing service-level agreements are being followed and develop “trustworthiness” guarantees and tradeoffs to cloud customers and system integrators that are both practical and useable.

“We envision a new generation of trusted cloud computing services where users will be able to verify the integrity of their data stored in the cloud and the correctness of computations performed in the cloud,” says principal investigator Roberto Tamassia. Tamassia is chair and Plastech Professor of Computer Science at Brown University.
The project’s co-principal investigators include Leo Reyzin, associate professor, Jonathan Appavoo, assistant professor, and Nikos Triandopoulos, research assistant professor, at BU and Anna Lysyanskaya, associate professor, and Rodrigo Fonseca, assistant professor, at Brown.

In exploring these cloud computing-related issues, the team will collaborate with researchers at leading IT industrial labs at IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, RSA (the security division of EMC) and VMware. The project also will involve BU’s Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security (RISCS) and the new Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) to examine broader implications and impacts of cloud technology on society.

The project’s ultimate goal is to define a viable marketplace for cloud computing resources in which users are assured that the services they acquire meet their performance, security, and privacy expectations.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island, and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School and the School of
Engineering. With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

Founded in 1965, the University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.9 billion.

BU Computer Scientist Wins Grant to Measure Children’s Behavior

September 23rd, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – Boston University College of Arts & Sciences Computer Science Professor and Department Chair Stanley Sclaroff is a principal investigator on a team that has won one of three National Science Foundation (NSF) Expeditions in Computing awards.

Each award will be for five years and up to $10 million. Sclaroff’s team’s project is titled “Computational Behavioral Science: Modeling, Analysis, and Visualization of Social and Communicative Behavior.”

Sclaroff and his colleagues will use the award to develop novel computing techniques for measuring and analyzing the behavior of children. These technologies will be used to enable new approaches for identifying children at risk for autism and other developmental delays. In addition, these methods may potentially improve the delivery and evaluation of treatment.

The team is a collaboration of five universities: BU, Georgia Tech, USC, MIT, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Carnegie Mellon University. The schools will share the total grant of up to $10 million over five years. The Expeditions in Computing program supports “fundamental research agendas that promise to define the future of computing and information.”

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

Mercury found to have comet-like appearance by satellites looking at Sun

September 22nd, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Rome and Boston) – Scientists from Boston University’s Center for Space Physics reported today that NASA satellites designed to view the escaping atmosphere of the Sun have also recorded evidence of gas escaping from the planet Mercury. The scientists reported these findings at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) meeting in Rome, Italy this week.

The STEREO mission has two spacecraft, in orbits just inside and outside the earth’s orbit around the Sun, and thus increasingly ahead and behind the earth (STEREO, or Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory, is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program). This configuration offers multi-directional views of the electrons and ions that make up the escaping solar wind. On occasion, the planet Mercury appears in the field of view of one or both satellites. In addition to its appearance as a bright disk of reflected sunlight, a “tail” of emission can be seen in some of the images. The announcement of this new method of observing Mercury and possible explanations for the nature of the gases that make up this tail were presented today at the EPSC.

It has been known that Mercury exhibits comet-like features, with a coma of tenuous gas surrounding the planet and a very long tail extending in the anti-sunward direction. From Earth, observations of both of these features can be done using light from sodium gas sputtered off the surface of Mercury. The Sun’s radiation pressure then pushes many of the sodium atoms in the anti-solar direction creating a tail that extends many hundreds of times the physical size of Mercury. “We have observed this extended sodium tail to great distances using our telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Texas,” Boston University graduate student Carl Schmidt explained, “and now the tail can also be seen from satellites near Earth.” Much closer to Mercury, several smaller tails composed of other gases, both neutral and ionized, were found by NASA’s MESSENGER satellite as it flew by Mercury in its long approach to entering into a stable orbit there.

“What makes the STEREO detections so interesting is that the brightness levels seem to be too strong to be from sodium,” commented Schmidt, lead author on the paper presented at EPSC. Of special interest is the way the tail was spotted in the STEREO data by Ian Musgrave, a medical researcher in Australia who has a strong interest in astronomy. Viewing the on-line database of STEREO images and movies, Dr. Musgrave recognized the tail and sent news of it to Boston asking the BU team to compare it with their observations.

“A joint study was started and now we have found several cases, with detections by both STEREO satellites,” explained Jeffrey Baumgartner, senior research associate in the Center for Space Physics at Boston University. Baumgartner designed of the optical instruments that discovered the exceptionally long sodium tail.

The current focus of the team is to sort out all of the possibilities for the gases that make up the tail. Christopher Davis, a researcher at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Chilton, England and member of the STEREO team responsible for the camera systems on both satellites, is working closely with the Boston University group on refining brightness calibration methods and determining the precise wavelengths of light that would get through the cameras’ filters.

“The combination of our ground-based data with the new STEREO data is an exciting way to learn as much as possible about the sources and fates of gases escaping from Mercury,” said Michael Mendillo, professor of astronomy at Boston University and director of the Imaging Science Lab where the work is being done. “This is precisely the type of research that makes for a terrific Ph.D. dissertation,” Mendillo added.

Research in Boston University’s Center for Space Physics involves interdisciplinary projects between members of the Astronomy Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and faculty, staff and students in the College of Engineering. Research areas include observational and theoretical studies in atmospheric, ionospheric and magnetospheric physics, planetary and cometary atmospheres, solar and heliospheric physics, and space weather.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Boston University Center For Space Physics

Research in Boston University’s Center for Space Physics involves interdisciplinary projects between members of the Astronomy Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and faculty, staff and students in the College of Engineering. Research areas include observational and theoretical studies in atmospheric, ionospheric and magnetospheric physics, planetary and cometary atmospheres, solar and heliospheric physics, and space weather.
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. It contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the university’s research and teaching mission

European Planetary Science Congress (Epsc) 2010

EPSC 2010 is organised by Europlanet, a Research Infrastructure funded under the European Commission’s Framework 7 Programme, in association with the European Geosciences Union, with the support of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the INAF Institute of Physics of Interplanetary Science (IFSI) in Rome. EPSC is the major meeting in Europe for planetary scientists. The 2010 programme comprises 48 sessions and workshops covering a wide range of planetary topics.

EPSC 2010 is taking place at the Angelicum Center – Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome, Italy from Sunday 19 September to Friday 24 September 2010.

For further details, see the meeting website: http://meetings.copernicus.org/epsc2010/

Europlanet Research Infrastructure (RI)

Europlanet Research RI is a major (€6 million) programme co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.

Europlanet RI brings together the European planetary science community through a range of Networking Activities, aimed at fostering a culture of cooperation in the field of planetary sciences, Transnational Access Activities, providing European researchers with access to a range of laboratory and field site facilities tailored to the needs of planetary research, as well as on-line access to the available planetary science data, information and software tools, through the Integrated and Distributed Information Service. These programmes are underpinned by Joint Research Activities, which are developing and improving the facilities, models, software tools and services offered by Europlanet.

Europlanet Project website: http://www.europlanet-ri.eu/
Europlanet Outreach/Media website: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/

BU Sargent College Occupational Therapy Students Participate in the 4th Annual Backpack Awareness Day at St. Mary’s School in Brookline

September 13th, 2010 in BU In the Community, Health & Medicine, News Releases, Sargent College, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Courtney de Lacy, 617-353-0197 | cdelacy@bu.edu

(Boston) – Boston University (BU) College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College announced today that it is partnering with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to conduct a backpack awareness day on Wednesday, September 15. This local, annual event helps to educate children, parents, school administrators, teachers, and the Boston community about the serious health problems associated with wearing a backpack improperly and is part of National Backpack Awareness Day, which is being held in schools and community centers across the country.

WHAT: Over 200 students (Pre-K – grade 8) of St. Mary’s of the Assumption School in Brookline, Massachusetts will participate in a Backpack Awareness Day “Weigh-In” of their backpacks. The weigh-in hopes to educate the students, teachers and parents of the proper way to wear a backpack and to illustrate the amount of weight that school children are carrying on their backs. Carrying too much weight in a pack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to aching back and shoulders, weakened muscles, and stooped posture.

WHERE: St. Mary of the Assumption School
67 Harvard Street Brookline, Massachusetts

WHEN: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 from 12:00 – 1:30pm EDT

WHY: The start of a new academic year is a reminder that more than 40 million American school children will be wearing a backpack to and from school every day. The AOTA recommends that school backpacks weigh no more than 15% of a child’s weight. The proper way to pack a backpack to minimize long-term health problems is to load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back and to arrange the books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.

The growing awareness of the issue over the last couple years has resulted in an increase in medical research, and more coverage of the issue in medical journals.

WHO: Karen Jacobs, Ed.D, OTR/L, CPE, clinical professor of occupational therapy at BU Sargent College is the national spokesperson for the AOTA. In her seventh year participating in National School Backpack Awareness Day, Jacobs is an expert on school ergonomics and the healthy growth and development of school-age children. Jacobs will be coordinating the “weigh-in” activities at St. Mary’s school, along with the help of BU Sargent College occupational therapy students, and will be available to answer questions about the proper use of backpacks.

Boston University College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College is an institution of higher education, research and clinical centers whose leading academic programs prepare dynamic health professionals to best serve the healthcare needs of society. As reported by US News and World Report, its graduate programs are ranked within the top 15% in the country. For more information and to learn about degree programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, language and hearing sciences, health science, athletic training, and nutrition, visit http://www.bu.edu/sargent.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. BU consists of 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

BU PARTNERS IN FIVE-YEAR, $7.5M GRANT TO STUDY ANIMAL FLIGHT

September 9th, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded a five-year, $7.5 million grant to a team of researchers from Boston University, the University of Washington, the University of Maryland, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The grant will fund a project entitled AIRFOILS (Animal Inspired Flight with Outer and Inner Loop Strategies), which will focus on the development of unmanned aircraft inspired by the flight mechanics and flight behavior of bats, birds and insects.

The Boston University team on the grant includes John Baillieul, Calin Belta, and Ioannis Paschalidis, professors in the College of Engineering; and Thomas Kunz, professor of biology, and Margrit Betke, professor of computer science, in the College of Arts & Sciences. The subcontract to BU is for $3,127,730. The project’s principal investigator, Kristi Morgansen, associate professor in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Washington, received her BS and MS degrees in engineering from Boston University.

The focus of the project is to build a process for translating biological capabilities for agile flight in a range of environments for engineered flight vehicles. Engineered systems are typically complex in terms of computational requirements, weight and physical design. Biological systems on the other hand use a high number of simple sensors which provide data for limited aspects of flight control but demonstrate the ability to fly effectively in highly demanding environments, such as under the forest canopy, and can safely land on variable and moving terrain.

The project will require a careful composition of biological studies and engineering design, in which biological studies will be specifically informed by engineering goals and engineering methods will be motivated by biological data, resulting in novel, bio-inspired techniques across the boundary of engineering and biology. The researchers will investigate a range of species (bats, birds and insects), which will be studied on a neurological level, a laboratory-based macro scale, and in open field free flight.

In addition, the proposed research will produce innovative methods for studying and integrating biological and engineered systems. The resulting engineering and science has high relevance to and impact on defense-related capabilities for air vehicle applications and for translating capabilities from natural to engineered systems via a systemic methodology.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

BU SCIENTISTS WARN OF LOUISIANA COASTAL EROSION

August 5th, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – A team of researchers, including three from Boston University, have released findings suggesting that current plans to introduce fresh water to inland marshes around the Louisiana Gulf Coast may weaken protective coastal barriers, leaving inland regions more vulnerable to hurricanes. The relative weakness of freshwater marshes compared to salty wetlands, they said, may help explain coastal erosion patterns after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Some of the very same marshes that were ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 are now being inundated with oil five years later,” says College of Arts & Sciences Professor of Earth Science Duncan FitzGerald. “It is a testimony to the resiliency of wetlands that they are able to survive these environmental disasters.”

To compare resistance of fresh and salt water wetlands against hurricane-force waves, the researchers tested the shear strength of soil in situ and in core samples retrieved from high- and low-salinity marshes along the Gulf Coast. They identified a weak zone in freshwater wetland cores that coincided with the base of plant rooting.

Soils from high salinity wetlands demonstrated no such zone, and contained deeper rooting. The strength of soil in this weak zone fell below the calculated shear force of waves generated by Hurricane Katrina, the researchers said, potentially explaining the greater failure rate of low-salinity marshes compared to salt water marshes during the storm.

The team, whose paper has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also included Boston University post-doc Zoe Hughes, and graduate student Nick Howes; Ioannis Georgiou, Mark Kulp, and Michael Miner of the University of New Orleans; and Jane Smith and John Barras of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

FitzGerald, who has been conducting research along the Louisiana coast for more than 20 years, has been using his expertise to help plan boom operations, determine oil burial on beaches, and provide expert opinion on the controversial berm construction strategy. He has been working in the Gulf since May 5th, documenting daily the oil encroachment on the Louisiana shoreline.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

BU SCIENTISTS STUDY RAT BRAINS TO HELP ROBOTS NAVIGATE

August 5th, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – A team led by Boston University College of Arts & Sciences Professor of Psychology Michael Hasselmo has won a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research to study rat brains to learn how to help military robots navigate.

The team will develop biologically inspired algorithms for robotic navigation based on recent data on grid cells recorded in the entorhinal cortex of the rat. In contrast to robots, rodents are highly effective at exploring an environment and returning to rewarding locations. This behavior may depend on neural activity selective to location, including the activity of recently discovered grid cells in the entorhinal cortex.

An active area of robotics research concerns the ability of a robot to perform navigation toward selected goals in the environment, and the capacity for a human operator to communicate with a robot about locations and goals. This includes the requirement of a robot to learn a representation of the environment during exploration while accurately recognizing location, termed simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).

Grid cells are neurons recorded as a rat explores an environment. The cells respond in an array of locations that can be described as the vertices of tightly packed equilateral triangles, or as a hexagonal grid. Recent models have shown how grid cells can code location based on self-motion information provided by neurons that code head direction or running speed, and have shown how grid cells could arise from oscillations in the entorhinal cortex. Recent imaging data indicates that grid cells may exist in the human cortex.

The researchers on this grant will further develop the models based on biological data and use them to guide the development of algorithms for robotic navigation, and for communication of information about spatial location between human operators and robots.

The researchers on this Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant include Hasselmo, BU College of Arts and Sciences psychology Professors Chantal Stern and Howard Eichenbaum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professors Nicholas Roy, John Leonard, and Matthew Wilson, Professor Ila Fiete at the University of Texas at Austin, and Professor Neil Burgess at University College, London.

The grant, presented July 16th, is for three years with the possibility of extension through a fifth year. It was one of 32 awards from the Defense Department to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary basic research. The MURI program supports research by teams of investigators that intersect more than one traditional science and engineering discipline in order to accelerate both research progress and transition of research results to application.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

BU SCIENTISTS RELEASE ALARMING DATA ON REGIONAL BAT POPULATIONS

August 5th, 2010 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – A new study led by Boston University College of Arts & Sciences researchers predicts that one of North America’s most common bat species, the little brown myotis, will be all but extinct in the Northeast in 20 years due to an emerging disease affecting hibernating bats in eastern North America called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).

The study, by a team including BU post-doctoral researcher, Winifred F. Frick, BU biology Professor Thomas H. Kunz, and former BU Ph.D. student D. Scott Reynolds, documents a rapid decline of little brown myotis populations because of WSN, first discovered in 2006 in New York State and now affecting at least seven species of bats. The findings will be published as the lead story in the August 6 issue of Science magazine, with Frick the lead author of the paper.

“This is one of the worst wildlife crises we’ve faced in North America,” said Frick. “The severity of the mortality and the rapidity of the spread of this disease make it very challenging and distressing. Researchers have been working very hard since it was first discovered four years ago to try to better understand the disease and find potential solutions to the problem.”

The researchers analyzed data from the past 30 years to establish that the regional populations of little brown myotis were healthy and thriving before WNS was discovered in 2006. They then combined this with current data on winter mortality of little brown myotis populations to determine the adverse effects of WNS from the millions of bats dying from this disease.

The research shows that the regional population of little brown myotis is expected to collapse to less than 1% within 20 years of what its population size was before WNS, even if mortality slows through time. They conclude that loss of so many bats may result in unpredictable changes to ecosystem structure and function and will most likely become a nation-wide problem as the disease spreads further west and south and into Canada as well.

“Each of the bat species affected by WNS are obligate insectivores — many of which feed on insect pests of agriculture, garden crops, forests, and at times on insects that annoy or pose risks to human health,” said Kunz. “The little brown myotis is known to consume up to 100% of its body weight in insects each night. This level of insect consumption provides an important ecosystem service to human kind, and to the balance of natural and human-altered ecosystems, which in turn can reduce the use of pesticides often used by humans to kill insect pests.”

Geomyces destructans, the newly described cold-loving fungal species associated with WNS, grows on the nose, wing membranes and ears of bats while they hibernate. The fungus attacks bats when they are hibernating in caves and mines during the winter, causing them to wake up frequently and thus starve to death before spring. This fungus has spread very rapidly since it was first discovered in 2006. By the end of the hibernation season in 2010, the fungus had been reported on bats in eastern Canada as far south as Tennessee and as far west as Oklahoma.

“Given the rapid geographic spread of this fungus over the past four years,” said Kunz, “we can expect that WNS will adversely affect bat species that form some of largest hibernating bat colonies in the U.S, including two federally-listed endangered species that occur mostly in the mid-western states.”

These hibernating colonies are comprised of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of bats of several species occupying a given cave or mine. In late spring, bats leave these winter roosts and females form maternity colonies in the summer to raise their young. Many aspects concerning the mechanisms of transmission of the fungus associated with WNS remain unknown. But researchers suspect, based on how rapidly it has spread, that normal movements of bats during different seasons may be important.

While research is on-going about the potential origin of the fungus in North America, recent evidence has shown that the same species of fungus occurs on hibernating bat species in Europe, suggesting that it may have been inadvertently introduced into New York State by human traffic.

“There are many pressing questions we still need to answer about WNS,” said Frick. “Our research demonstrates the seriousness of the impact that this disease is having on bat populations, but we need more research on how and why the disease is killing so many bats and, most importantly, what we can do to stop it.”

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