In the news / Health and Food Safety

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Students, faculty and staff are expected to return to campus this August, but with COVID-19 cases still on the rise in Arizona and the highly social nature of college, the University of Arizona called upon a team of BIO5 Institute members to address inevitable future cases

 
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The University of Arizona will soon begin analyzing blood samples from hundreds of thousands of Arizonans to determine who has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and developed antibodies against it. The first phase of testing will begin April 30 in Pima County and will include 3,000 health care workers and first responders.
 
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BIO5 connects and mobilizes hundreds of world-class researchers to develop creative solutions for complex challenges such as disease, hunger, water and food safety, and other health issues facing Arizona and the world. This interdisciplinary approach from BIO5 researchers, including Drs. Jennifer Barton, Judith Su, and DK Kang, has resulted in disease prevention strategies and promising new therapies, innovative diagnostics and devices, and improved food crops.
 
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Along with a fellow virologist, Dr. Felicia Goodrum, a UArizona Immunobiologist and BIO5 member, discusses the logic of continuing U.S. and state mandated shelter in place orders to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Goodrum gives her recommendations for moving forward and her belief that as a nation, we must work to marshal protective resources, public health monitoring, and strong scientific and political leadership as we navigate this new normal.
 
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With $3.5 million in funding from the state, the University of Arizona is moving forward with plans to start producing blood tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies for the Arizona’s front-line workforce. The antibody tests build upon the work of UArizona Health Sciences researchers and BIO5 Institute members Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, professor and head of the Department of Immunobiology, and Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology. The tests will help determine how many people have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and have successfully built an immunity against it. Experts say as many as 50% of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 have experienced few to no symptoms of the disease.
 
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We all do better when we work together. Using cutting edge technology and big data analysis, the newly formed Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union (ACGU) will track the virus’ evolution and transmission. Co-founded by UArizona Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology head and BIO5 associate director Dr. Michael Worobey, the cross-university collaboration between NAU, TGen and UArizona is another example of how our combined strength will provide solutions to better Arizona.
 
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A team of UArizona Health Sciences researchers is studying whether or not certain copper-based chemical compounds could potentially stop the virus that causes COVID-19 dead in its tracks. The lab of Dr. Michael Johnson uses chemical compounds that deliver copper to disease-causing bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae and MRSA. The copper kills them. Building on the new COVID-19 findings, Dr. Johnson elicited the help of additional UArizona researchers including Drs. Koenraad Van Doorslaer, Wei Wang, and Elisa Tomat, to assist in the study as to whether or not these same compounds could block SARS-CoV-2 from even entering human cells or hinder their ability to replicate once they do.
 
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Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson have invented a new respiratory-assist device, or RAD, that provides fast, safe relief to those who experience difficulty breathing. Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, professor of medicine and chief of the UArizona Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and Dr. Marvin Slepian, Regents Professor of Medicine and director of the UArizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation, created the new device: a small-scale, low-pressure heliox rebreathing system that simultaneously removes carbon dioxide while appropriately adjusting for humidity as it recirculates gasses in a closed system. To battle one of the major complications of COVID-19, inflammation in the respiratory tract and lungs that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia, the fast and safe application of a RAD can make the difference between life and death.
 
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Lo Que Pasa spoke with University experts, including Dr. Melanie Hingle, a UArizona Department of Nutrition associate professor and BIO5 member, about nutrition, fitness and mindfulness, and asked their advice on how to stay on top of each as the coronavirus upends many routine aspects of daily life. Maintaining mental and physical health during a pandemic can seem very challenging, but is a very important step to take. Dr. Hingle gives a look into her pantry and shares her tips for keeping a healthy diet while staying at home.
 
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Researchers in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are working to produce much-needed hand sanitizer for health care workers in Southern Arizona hospitals. “With the goal of keeping our laboratory personnel safe, and also to do our part in ‘flattening the curve,’ we rapidly scaled down our ongoing research projects on bacterial infectious diseases,” said Gayatri Vedantam, an associate professor in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences and a BIO5 Institute member. “At the same time, our entire group came to the realization that stepping back was not aligned with what we do as scientists.”
 
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UArizona researchers and staff at all levels are working to assemble COVID-19 collection kits. Led by Dr. David T Harris, Arizona Health Sciences Biorepository executive director, UArizona Department of Immunobiology professor, and BIO5 faculty member, research staff had begun producing the kits over the weekend, ultimately assembling more than 1,600 kits. Dr. Harris said that while assembling the collection kits is fairly easy, it's finding the materials for those kits that's the difficult part. Despite already making nearly 2,000 of these collection kits over the weekend, Dr. Harris said staff aim to assemble 10,000 over the next two weeks.
 
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There is an outbreak killing California’s citrus trees that has caused the state’s orange growers to expand a quarantine zone to cover more than 1,000 square miles of infected land in four counties. Dr. Judy Brown, a UArizona professor of plant sciences and BIO5 member, is working to figure out how to cut off this disease before it affects ever-valuable citrus crops in Arizona.
 
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Dr. Barry Pryor, a UArizona plant sciences professor and BIO5 faculty member, discusses how the market demand for gourmet and medicinal mushrooms is increasing substantially as a part of a growing movement towards planting alternative crops in greenhouses. Such crops could easily become the next big thing in greenhouse gardening and could bring growers the opportunity to capitalize on new markets.
 
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The Arizona Prevention Research Center has received a $7.5 million, five-year award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue critical collaborations with community health workers and their organizations in Pima, Maricopa, Yuma, Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties. This award will benefit a cancer prevention research project led by UArizona Zuckerman College of Public Health professor, and BIO5 and UArizona Cancer Center member, Dr. Cynthia Thomson.
 
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UA CALS researchers including BIO5 members Drs. Shane Burgess and Patricia Stock, explain the advantages of having a complete genome description of its academic beef herd, after an SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms) typing project was completed this past May at the V Bar V Agricultural Experiment Station in Coconino County. The goal is to use the extensive data, to help cattle growers improve production by giving them an affordable method for identifying predictable and specific genetic traits in cows.
 
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Swollen Shoot disease is affecting cacao trees in Ghana. UA Plant Sciences professor Dr. Judith Brown, notes that the disease is threatening to affect the supply of chocolate. Dr. Brown is using genome sequencing technology to look deeper into the viruses found to cause damage in cacao plant samples.
 
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A Tucson startup with technology to help fish farmers boost production were one of two grand prize winners of a business pitch competition at the 2019 edition of IdeaFunding. The founders of GenetiRate, including BIO5’s Dr. Benjamin Renquist shared in the $25,000 grand prize sponsored by UAVenture Capital
 
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Firefighters and advocates from across Arizona gathered Thursday for the first meeting of a state Senate ad hoc committee tasked with tackling the issue of cancer among first responders. During the first meeting, the University of Arizona’s Dr. Jeff Burgess gave a presentation on his nearly 20 years of studying